Monday, July 27, 2009

A Week-End Warp Weighted Loom Project

The plaid yardage is not the first project on this loom. She made her debut at the Griffin Dyeworks Fiber Retreat in 2008, with a group project to weave a shawl in a weekend. We had from noon on Friday until noon on Sunday to weave the header band, tie the heddles, weave and finish off the shawl. For every 15 minutes a participant worked on the project, she or he got a raffle ticket. At the end of the retreat we raffled off the shawl.

Many hands made it possible to finish – although we did have to weave into the night on Saturday to stay on track. Many of the participants had no previous weaving experience, and it was exciting to watch them experience the magic of weaving cloth for the first time.

Here’s a picture of Mel weaving the header band using an inkle loom and warping board, clamped side by side to a table:

And here’s tyeing the heddles:

With a step stool, this became a multigenerational project:

Bridget wields the sword beater:

The warp was black wool from Halcyon Yarn. The weft was space dyed with many flavors of Kool-Aid
for a result that could only be called “tooty fruity”! The multi-color yarn could have been alarming, but the black warp toned it down and made a truly dramatic shawl. Here’s a close up:

And here’s Ercil modeling the finished shawl:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Elephant Anatomy

My current project started life on another loom, borrowed from my friend Ellen. You can see pictures of the loom (and of the beginning of this project) at her Warp Weighted Loom blog. After a while, I started feeling guilty about having her loom for so long, so I decided I needed a warp weighted loom of my own.

It looked to me that Ellen’s design would be fairly simple to construct with a power saw and a drill press. Unfortunately, I don’t do hardware, only software, and the only power tools I possess are sewing machines. So I asked my friends Sean and Mary Ann to help me build a loom.

The first thing you need to know about Sean and Mary Ann is that everything they do, they do very, very well. It’s a combination of talent, intelligence and careful planning. The other thing you need to know is that they never do anything half-way. Sean and Mary Ann came over to take a few measurements off of Ellen’s loom while it was set up in my kitchen, and discuss any modifications I wanted. It quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to get a loom made of cheap pine from Home Depot. Also that more equipment than a chop saw and drill press would be needed.

Sean picked out some beautiful ash wood from the lumber yard. We spent a weekend in their shop using power tools I didn’t even know existed. Sean and Mary Ann were kind enough to let me pretend that I was helping – not just getting in the way. By the end of the weekend I had a beautiful loom made to my personal specifications made out of ash wood, with mortise and tenon joints.

A traditional warp weighted loom leans against a wall. I needed a loom that was free standing – I don’t have any empty wall space that isn’t a sliding glass door. I also needed a loom that could be disassembled and transported so I could use it for classes and demos. So my loom has a back upright that is hinged to the front. There are two cross pieces in the back and one in the front, that peg to the uprights and stabilize width of the loom. The cross pieces on each side hold it open. The loom breaks down into (mostly) flat pieces and a few pegs that I can easily transport in my minivan.

The top (cloth) beam must be braked in some way to keep it from unrolling under the weight of the warp. We decided to do this by shaping the beam into an octagon that fits snuggly into the supports.

I’m particularly proud of the heddle rod supports. They are based on an archaeological find from Trondheim, Sweden, circa 1120 – 1200 a.d. The original is pictured on page 232 of “Tidens Tand Nr. 5”, the report of the 4th NESAT Symposium. I enlarged the photo to the size needed and transferred it to the wood (Sean cut it out on the scroll saw).

So that’s the basic anatomy of my elephant. If you want of an elephant of your own there are instructions here at the House Barra web site and here at Barbara atte Dragon's web site.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

There’s an elephant in my living room. You know what I mean, something large and obvious that you do your best to ignore. My elephant is a warp weighted loom. It stands in the opening between my living room and my loom room. It has been standing there for a very long time.

The fabric on the loom is a plaid wool that was started as a class project. Perhaps foolishly, I decided that I wanted to put on a warp long enough to have a useful piece of fabric when I was done – 5 yards to be exact.

As a learning experience it was very successful for me (even though I was one of the teachers for the class!) – I learned that it is possible to pack the warp into the tablet woven header band way too tightly. So instead of the recommended sett or 20 – 28 ends per inch for plain weave, I have a sett of 36 – 40 ends per inch. This means a couple things. First, the fabric is warp faced, very warp faced. Second, it’s a bit of a struggle to get a clear shed. Third, the warps sticking together causes abrasion and breakage.

Now it takes a while to weave on a warp weighted loom – longer than on a floor loom (there is a reason they invented those treadles). When it’s hard to get a clear shed it takes even longer. And you’re standing up the whole time. So, are you surprised that my loom is an elephant?

I’ve made a promise to myself. I will finish this project by the end of the summer and nothing goes on the floor loom until the WWL comes down. Stay tuned to this channel for updates.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In Praise of Ordinary Time

“There is a very fine line between a groove and a rut”
--Christine Lavin

Ordinary time is underrated. You know the time I mean, the days that are routine - work, house-work, school-work – whatever your routine happens to be. A block of days where one day melds predictably into the next, busy, yes – these days who’s not? – but busy in a predictable way.

I haven’t had very much ordinary time lately. In the twenty years that I’ve been weaving, weaving these stoles has been the most intense project I’ve undertaken. I had a very tight time frame – just five weeks from start to finish. Five weeks to plan, order, then dye the yarn, warp the loom three times and weave four stoles. In the middle of this, I had a clase to prepare for and teach at the Griffin Dyeworks Fiber Retreat.

Under normal circumstances, I greatly enjoy the Fiber Retreat, held annually at Camp Verdugo Oaks just north of Castaic in the Tehachapi mountains. That would have been true this year, too, but I arrived and promptly started developing the symptoms of a cold that promised to be serious (I still have congestion and a nagging cough). So, unfortunately, I had to come home from the retreat a day early. There are some great blogs about the retreat - here's one at Mixed-Up Melange.

With all this going on, it’s small wonder that my days were anything but ordinary. My house has descended into chaos, my vegetable garden is over grown (I think there might be a zucchini out there that is large enough to qualify as small planet), and my family hasn’t had a home cooked meal in six weeks. I’m anxious for some ordinary time.

The green stole (for ordinary time) wove up faster than all the others – the shadow weave design, a gothic cross pattern from A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns, did not require a tabby thread, so there was less treadling.

So all the stoles were finished in time, with a couple of days to spare. Pastor Walt was thrilled with the gift, and it was a joy to see him wearing the red stole last Sunday (the red one is my personal favorite).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Too Busy Weaving to Write

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been too busy weaving to write about weaving. The red stole and the purple stole are now completed. I’m taking a break from threading the heddles for the green stole. Here’s a picture of the red and purple stoles:

And a close-up of the diamond pattern in the purple stole:

Purple is for advent and lent – the days of penitence and preparation (which are two sides of the same coin).

To prepare for the weaving of these stoles, I used several resources. For my patterns, I used A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns. I put the designs I chose into Fiberworks PCW. This gave me working copies of the threading, tie-up and treadling, and figured the number of heddles needed for each shaft. I used my own Excel spreadsheet to figure the warp and weft yardage requirements for the 20-2 silk and 120/2 from Treenway. I consulted the notebook created in the SOAR workshop with Sarah Lamb to pick the colors I would create with Sabracron F dyes.

Before I undertook any of these technical aspects, however, I turned to everyone’s favorite new research tool for inspiration – the internet. There are lots of fiber artists making unique and beautiful liturgical stoles out there. Not only hand woven, but quilted, appliquéd, painted and embroidered. I found some that I’d like to share with you:

Heavenly Threads is owned by a fashion designer and pastor - now there’s a combination I can get behind!

The In Stitches Center for Liturgical Art uses dye, quilting and appliqué in their contemporary stoles. They also conduct workshops.

Sandra Briney makes elegant handwoven stoles using the Theo Moorman inlay technique.

Prayerful Creations is the work of a hermit who lives in silence and solitude and supports herself by weaving. Wow – weaving without the distractions of dogs, cats, phones and garage bands! I wonder what that would be like?

Weaver Andrea Williams of North Carolina uses a variety of weave structures in her colorful stoles.

And finally, The Shower of Stoles Project is a collection of liturgical stoles from GLBT clergy. Some are simple, some elaborate, but all represent the faith and service of these disciples.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Days of Wind and Fire

Eastertide is coming to a close, and Pentecost is next Sunday. I’ve started the red stole.

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” Acts 2:2-3

Here in southern California, we understand the power of wind and fire. Two weeks ago, wind stirred up a fire just north of here in Santa Barbara. Hundreds of homes were lost in the fire. Fire is part of our natural landscape, it burns away old, dry brush and gives a chance for fresh new growth to come with the winter rains.

A few years ago we went camping in Yellowstone National Park. Fires had burned a significant portion of the forest. Dry, old and diseased trees had been burned away, and new saplings made the mountainsides look as if they had been covered with green velvet. The fires gave a chance for new life.

For a stole that gave the impression of tongues of fire, I chose an undulating twill, modified slightly, from “A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns.” This stole is weaving up much faster than the white one – partly because to elongate the pattern, I’ve doubled up the weft thread, and partly because the treadling is straight, less jumping back and forth.

Unfortunately, the picture of the finished white stole doesn't do justice to it:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thoughts On Dyeing

“Of the blue, purple and crimson yarns they made finely worked vestments, for ministering in the holy place” Exodus 39:1

Taking breaks from weaving the white stole, I’ve been dyeing the yarn for the red and purple stoles. Because I am going to weave the red and purple stoles from the same warp threading (different tie-ups and treadling), I want a warp that is a “plummy” red. Then I will use a brighter red for the weft of the red stole and a dark purple for the weft of the purple stole.

I admit it, I am no great shakes as a dyer. In fact the red warp started out as a failed dye experiment. I had several skeins that had been dyed with cochineal and over-dyed with indigo. The result was blotchy and not at all what I was hoping for. The skeins went back into my stash where I didn’t have to look at them. This time round I’m not messing with natural dyes. I’m going straight to the more predictable results from technical dyes.

As I am measuring the dye powder and other ingredients for my Sabrachron F - what you see is what you get - dyes, I marvel at the dedication of those ancient Israelite dyers. On what was, essentially, a forty year camp-out, they took the care to dye precious linen threads – undoubtedly brought with them out of Egypt – blue and purple and crimson for Aaron their high priest to wear in the tabernacle they were building (are Kermes indigenous to the Negev?).

I think on this again several hours later when I’m trying to wash the last traces of red dye from my warp. I gave up counting the rinses. How did they do this in the desert? “Hey, Moses, can you come over here and smite this rock? I need some more water to rinse my yarn.”

To pick my colors, I referred to the sample notebook made in Sarah Lamb’s workshop class at SOAR several years ago. I’ve found this book to be an invaluable resource ever since. I used my crockpot set on “low” for the dye bath, but otherwise followed the instructions on Pro-Chem’s web page.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fuzzy Pink Sweater Re-purposed

It is not true that projects have to “age” before they’re finished. It’s also not true that yarn and fiber have to age before they’re used. But for me they generally do, just the same, if there’s no deadline (and sometimes even if there is).
I come by my stashing and ageing habits honestly – my stash is nothing compared to my mother’s. But then she had more room for her stash – she had a barn!
A few years ago, I helped my mom downsize when she moved into a retirement community. There was quite a lot of yarn in the stash, mostly worsted weight acrylic. That went to the thrift store. But there was some good stuff too, like several skeins of pink mohair. From the wrappers, I could tell that they were probably bought in the 1950’s and it was clear that they were intended for a fuzzy pink sweater.

The fuzzy pink sweater yarn became the basis for the design of two shawls that I started back in November. Because the first shawl was to be a donation to a charity auction, I didn’t want to spend anything out of pocket - at least not out of today’s pocket - so everything else came out of my stash:
  • A good size hank of a two strand yarn, one cream colored mohair and one pink slubby rayon, purchased in the mid-90’s;
  • Two skeins of handspun wool/angora blend that were given to me around 1990;
  • One ball of rayon ribbon also from my mother’s stash;
  • Enough 20/2 unbleached silk to fill out the warp and for the weft, purchased early 2000’s.
In November I warped up the two shawls and wove one. I cut it off for the charity auction, and then didn’t re-tie the warp to the front apron – I don’t know why, I just didn’t. Then I decided to weave the liturgical stoles – a project with a deadline, thank you very much, and that meant finishing the project already on the loom first. I sleyed the warp in my 12-dent reed, somewhat irregularly. All of the yarns except the silk and the pink mohair were a bit bulky, so I left empty dents if two of those were side by side. My goal was to spread each type of yarn relatively evenly across the width of the warp, not too densely, as I wanted the shawl to be light and drapey. At each edge I added several ends of the 20/2 silk, double sleyed, so that I would have a good firm selvedge.
The threading was plain weave. Plain weave is like eating popcorn – it doesn’t take much thought and can be very satisfying, or at least filling. On the other hand a mohair warp requires constant vigilance. The mohair is inclined to make friends with its neighbors, and then you don’t get a clear shed. Keeping the warp really tight helps, but the handspun wool/angora didn’t like that very much, so I ended up with quite a lot of broken warps.
Even so, checking to see if the shed was clear, and sometimes manually separating the mohairs from their neighbors, became part of the rhythm of the weaving. This slowed things down quite a bit, so it took about 8 hours to weave the whole thing.

I'm calling this my “Fuzzy Pink Sweater Stole” in memory of the sweater that might have been. The finished size is a generous 24” by 82”. My goal is to weave a couple more simple shawls and start a shop on Etsy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weaving in Ordinary Time

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at liturgical weaving, but since my dad, the preacher, retired long before I started weaving, I never really had a reason to.

A few weeks ago we learned that our Pastor is being transferred to another church. It’s a Methodist thing called “the itinerancy” and, being a preacher’s kid myself, I know it means picking up and moving every few years. I’ve decided to weave a set of liturgical stoles as a special gift for Pastor Walt.

This also gave me a chance to think about the significance of the colors associated with various times of the Christian year and to choose weaving designs that are appropriate to the seasons, as well.

For the ordinary days –
the not-short-enough days of winter and the dragging days of summer,
Green to remember that our Shepherd will provide fresh pastures to nourish us,
and still, cool waters to refresh us.

For the days of wind and of fire –
Red to energize, to sound the alarm –
be ready for the gifts of the Spirit!

For the days of anticipation –
Royal purple - you have been called by the High King
to be His steward, and to lead His people in preparation for His coming.

For the days of exhaltation –
White for the blazing light of the star and the angels at the tomb –
He is with us!

For all the days, the grace to say:
“This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it!”

I decided to start with the white stole, since the yarn doesn’t need to be dyed for this one. I’m using 20/2 spun silk from Treenway – the last of a 1 lb cone that I bought years ago. I’ve ordered more to complete the other stoles.

The pattern I’m using is an 8-shaft “Star of Bethlehem” design from “A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns” by Carol Strickler (Interweave). I thought this would be an appropriate design for the white stole, since white is the one worn at Christmas.

The sett is 28 epi in a 14 dent reed. The great thing about a narrow project like this is that I don’t get bored or tired threading just 168 heddles - and that means no threading mistakes to fix! I’m using the same 20/2 silk in the weft, and, since this pattern also requires a tabby to stabilize it, I’m using some 120/2 silk for that. The 120/2 is finer that sewing thread!

My weave-along music is Handel’s Messiah recorded by the Chicago Symphony. What beautiful and inspiring music to accompany liturgical weaving! I can’t sing along, though, and still keep track of the treadling.

The finished stole needs to be 110 inches and I've got less than 15 - I'd better get back to weaving!