Saturday, 16 May 2015

Here be Elephants

In late January I started weaving again in response to a plea for Linus blankets for CHEO. While the effort described here is not quite going to cut the mustard as a Linus blanket (I have a lot to learn about take up and shrinkage and general size planning for weaving, really, I have a lot to learn about weaving period, but more about that later) it has rather started me down a hopefully long and fruitful path of exploration and ultimately sharing.

I had made a successful blanket in Summer and Winter on the RH almost 5 years ago for a friend's new baby.  Said baby is now in Kindergarten and her Mum tells me the blanket is very well used, as a car blanket, a picnic blanket, floor mat, toy box cover and more.  I'm glad it isn't wrapped in tissue or hanging on a wall, such gifts are meant to be used.  I thought that experience might get me started on the right track.

Summer and Winter on the RH as I do it is really a tapestry technique. Anything I can graph in 2 colours I can weave.  For some reason I was hooked on the idea of an elephant blanket. I just needed a graph. Enter Stitch Sketch for iPad, an app that will import an image and convert it to a graph in as many or few colours as you want. Google images provided several likely candidates.  I finally settled on one that, with a bit of editing and fiddling, produced this graph:

Summer and Winter works in 4 thread units in the warp and 8 thread units in the weft. Each warp unit has 2 "tie down" threads and 2 pattern threads which alternate. On the RH the tie down threads are threaded in the holes of the heddles alternating between the two (i.e. tie down 1 or "x" goes in the front heddle hole, then a pattern thread in the slot, then tie down 2 or "y" in in the back heddle, then the 2nd pattern thread in the next slot).  The pattern threads are controlled in pairs
by a pick up stick.  For each row of the graph you pick up a pair of pattern threads for each filled in pattern square from behind the heddles. For this blanket I used 4/8 cotton for the warp threaded at 10dpi in 2 10 dpi heddles on my 32" Ashford RH loom.

In weaving there are several sequences you can use for the weft which each give a more or less different effect.  I chose x-y-y-x this time based on a sampler I made before I made the first baby blanket. This means that for each row of the graph after I made the pick up I wove the following shots:

1.  Both heddles up for tabby using navy 2/8 cotton (traditionally the tabby weft is usually the same weight as the warp but I wanted this tabby to be less noticeable and Judith said it would work - she's the S&W expert).
2.  Front heddle (x) up, back heddle down, stick forward to raise the pattern threads. Weave with 8/8 cotton pattern weft, in this case, elephant grey. The pattern weft is usually twice the diameter of the ground warp and weft.
3.  Both heddles down for tabby with 2/8 navy
4.  Back heddle (y) up, front heddle down, stick forward to raise the pattern threads with 8/8 grey
5.  Both heddles up for tabby with 2/8 navy
6.  Back heddle (y) up, front heddle down, stick forward to raise the pattern threads with 8/8 grey
7.  Both heddles down for tabby with 2/8 navy
8.  Front heddle (x) up, back heddle down, stick forward to raise the pattern threads with 8/8 grey

Check the graph, make a new pick up and repeat... 147 times. It isn't fast but it isn't really slow either once you catch the rhythm. I used Knit Companion (free version) on the iPad to keep my place on the graph. I used a safety pin with a cleverly designed stitch marker from Clover that holds a little piece of paper for keeping track of what block I was on. Every 10 rows I pinned the marker at the fell line and wrote the row number on the paper.  Every 5th row I put a safety pin in without the note. I leapfrogged the two markers as I went so I could easily count and see where I was.

The tag and marker are at the bottom right of the picture.  This is where I weave, sitting on a pillow on the floor with the loom against the fireplace ledge.  You can also see the iPad with the graph, and two sticks - I always leave the current stick in and use it to guide the next pick up.  When I'm sure I have it right I pull out the old stick.  The heddles are in down position so that the slot threads are on top both in front and behind the heddles.  They show up in pairs, in this case made even clearer because I changed colours every unit.

Since no post is complete without an appearance from the "helpers" here are Seven and Bandit, the newest members of the Helpy Helpers team:

Yes, I can weave with a cat on my lap (well, Seven the extra small one, anyway, not sure Hobbes the extra large would fit), and yes, Bandit is UNDER the loom.  He was pretty good about not trying to catch the shuttle from there.

And here it is all washed and finished, except for trimming the fringe, which I think I like and isn't a problem if it's a wall hanging rather than a baby blanket.  I will spare you the pictures and commentary of fixing a tabby error I found after I took it off the loom for now.

Weaver's side up
Weaver's side down
It came out a bit smaller than I anticipated.  I was aiming for 28"x52" for a Linus blanket.  I warped full width on the 32" (which is actually 31.5") with 96" of warp.  Draw seemed to be less than 1" either side, but off the loom it relaxed to 28.5" wide.  It was only 62" long and I used almost every inch of warp I had - loom waste was about 4" on the front (to the beginning of the hem) and less than 14" on the back.  Lessons in take up learned.  I also noticed that I beat the beginning less well than the end.  Apparently the threat of running out of warp with 2" to go is a good beating motivator. 

Still I am ridiculously pleased with it.  This simply couldn't be done on a harness loom.  There aren't enough harness nor treadles to control 80 independent blocks.

For my next trick, I'm going to work on a tutorial kit that will thoroughly teach Summer and Winter on the RH.  I'm still trying to figure out a good project, but I am leaning toward a tea towel sampler in 2/8 ground warp and weft with 4/8 pattern weft.  I want to have the kit with yarn, complete tutorial and sampler pattern put together in time for Twist, Fibrefest and the Guild Sale which means a lot of work between now and August...


  1. Your brain works in weird and wonderful ways. I wish I had the slightest idea how to do this. Oh wait, I will. In August.

  2. My brain works by reading and then by problem solving. There was an article, I read it, I followed the instructions, I learned a new technique. The article isn't readily available anymore, and the author could have been a bit clearer in parts so I shall expand and add pictures and share the information again. Also, if you want to be a test weaver you maybe won't have to wait until August.