Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Goal for 2017

Kelly Casanova, who has a very useful YouTube channel for Rigid Heddle weaving, posted on the RH Adventure Facebook group asking what our weaving goals for 2017 are.  Mine is to share what I have learned and discovered playing with my RH looms.  I'm going to do this in two ways.  I am planning on liberally borrowing an idea or philosophy from the the late, great, Elizabeth Zimmermann, in the process.  EZ wrote fascinating books on knitting.  In most of them she first described a technique or idea for a project in such a way that "thinking knitters" (as she called them) could work out the details for themselves.  She would then provide a more line by line pattern for "blind followers" (again, her term).  I liked both approaches.  Sometimes I used the "thinking knitter" information to make my own version of a project.  Sometimes it was nice to let her do the working out and just go along for the ride.

So, my plan is to sketch out my ideas and approaches to different techniques here on the blog, freely available to all.  "Independent Weavers" should be able to take the information and run with it and come up with their own projects.  However, sometimes even we "independent" types just want someone else to do the driving.  For that, I will produce patterns for specific projects that illustrate the techniques.  These will have a lot more depth, with clever tips and pointers for sticky bits and lots of photographs, so that pretty much anyone who has direct warped a loom and woven plain weave with some success should be able to follow them.  The patterns will be made available in my Etsy shop.  Prices will vary depending on the complexity of the technique and project.  To that end I shall start with the Scribble Warp scarf I'm working on right now.  Part of the "Support Noble Fibre Mill by coming up with neat projects for their corespun yarn" initiative!

If all goes well, I will finish the scarf tomorrow.  Then I will write the "Independent Weavers" version of the techniques I used here on the blog.  Next I will write the more detailed pattern for the actual scarf and have some friends proof read and test weave a bit.  Hopefully that pattern will be available for purchase on Etsy in a few weeks.  I will also start warping the "4-shaft Waffle" dish towel project I have promised as a pattern.  Bits of that will show up on the blog, then the finalized pattern will go up on Etsy.  I also have a neat idea to combine both warp and weft "scribble" in a "MaD pLaiD" scarf or cowl.  And some Christmas ornaments in pick up Bronson Lace, and maybe something else in Summer and Winter and there's the 3 shaft twill shawl with the buttons you haven't seen yet (because I still haven't done the edging and buttons) and and oh...

Maybe in the meantime I will distract you with some crazy knitting.  Thing Tall loves ties.  To the point he has started to learn to knit because Mum was taking too long to make him a knitted one (there's yet another pattern project! Or 4, part of the reason I hadn't done it yet was a wealth of ideas. mostly woven).  And then, he of the freakishly long (size 16) feet asked very nicely for some socks that were not black, like maybe argyle, please?  Two days before Christmas.  So, Mum thought, having failed to find anything immediately available, what is Christmas Eve without a last minute knitting project?  Thus, I present, The Argyle Tie:

Crazy kid wants it finished.  Intends to actually wear it!  It will need a nice lining and maybe I should have chosen better yarn.  I can still write out the pattern when it is done. 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

A Venture into Pattern Writing

Recently I floated an idea on the Facebook group "Rigid Heddle Adventure".  I asked if there would be a market for more of my Rigid Heddle technique tutorials/project patterns.  I got a lot of positive feedback and the answer seemed to be a resounding "YES".  One of the suggestions I got was to put up an example of my pattern writing so that people would have a sense of what they were paying for.  I thought that quite reasonable, but then I needed a fairly simple idea to work with.

At about the same time I started getting to know Lori and Matt from Noble Fibre Mill, a new custom processing Mill in Almonte, Ontario.  Matt's parents run Belfast Mini Mills, his dad designs and builds the equipment and his mum runs their mill and trains new users.  Matt and Lori are just building up their mill, so far they can produce rovings, felt, and a really neat corespun yarn.  They are working towards adding the real spinning equipment, hopefully sooner rather than later.  It was a comment from Lori at the OVWSG Exhibition and Sale that "people think this yarn is really neat, but they aren't sure what to do with it" that prompted me to say "I have tons of ideas, give me some scraps and I'll play with it and make you some samples".  Matt brought me a pretty big ball the next day and I started playing on the remaining black tencel warp from taking the Tom Knisely Sakiori and Zanishi workshop.

I resleyed in a single 10dpi heddle so that the 2/8 Tencel was doubled in each slot and hole.  I tried a whole bunch of things, but my favourite was this:
I call it "Scribbling", it looks really cool, but it's really easy to do.

I warped the loom again, this time with Ashford Tekapo 8 ply.  I chose it because I had it my stash, the colour worked with the corespun, and it's a style of yarn that I think Matt will eventually be able to produce.

This is what I came up with:  a wide loop scarf, plain weave with "Scribbling", and a tidy flat fell seam to join it.  I used a 5 dpi heddle, but you could use every other slot/hole in a 10 dpi heddle.  Scribbling needs 1 pickup stick which you place once then use throughout as needed.

 I didn't have a model handy.  Hobbes offered to help, but then declined to actually wear it.  Too bad, the colour rather suits him.

The scarf finished at about 10-1/2" wide with a 54" circumference.  It's long enough to go twice around the neck.

I have written up the pattern and it is now available on its own page here on the blog, just click on Scribble Scarf for the Rigid Heddle at the top of the page.

Please let me know what you think of the pattern.  Feedback is most welcome.  I want to write patterns that teach new techniques that can then be applied to whatever project you wish.  I have some more Tekapo warp on the loom and I'm trying something else with the corespun.  If it works (the air is a little blue around here at the moment...) I'll write that pattern get it tested and put it in the Etsy shop.  Then, the RH Adventure group wants the pattern for 4 shaft waffle on the RH.  Tea Towels in 2/8 cotton here we come.  My goal is to have a solid pattern by my birthday at the end of January.  We shall see. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

I Surrender: my first floor loom cloth

When last we met I was testing dye colours and learning to wind a warp.  Since then I have mastered warping on a vertical warping mill (with up to 5 threads at a time, but that's another post), I painted a whole series of small test warps, Jan and I set up her antique Clement loom at my house, Jan helped me warp it and I wove my first cloth on a floor loom.  Also, I might have bought my own floor loom, but that's yet another post after we get it set up...

Here is the array of painted warps on 2/8 cotton:
Once I really get the hang of what I'm doing when I paint, I'll tell you more about the process.  Anyone who knows me, knows I like to measure accurately both so that colours are reproducible and so as not to waste materials like dye stock.  I found very little information to help me with that when it came to painting on cellulose with MX dyes so I am developing my own spreadsheets and procedures; when I'm happy with them, I'll find a way to share them.

My friend Ann came over and we had a play day.  She has a large box of assorted MX dyes, including an alarming number of greens.  I couldn't quite give up the measuring, but these little skeins for weft were mostly thrown together, with the inevitable result that I can't reproduce that lovely warm brown, sigh. I did learn about low water immersion techniques, however.  There are a variety of fibres represented:  2/8 and 2/16 cotton, 2/8 bamboo, cottolin and hemp/cotton.  The bamboo is the shiny, purple one in the middle. 

When Jan came to help me put the warp on the loom she decided we needed something to separate the different painted warps, so I wound narrow stripes of navy and black to divide them.  Jan helped me get the warp on and made sure I was getting the hang of threading then left me to work on my own.  I thread to a straight draw (4-3-2-1) and then sleyed the reed with a variety of setts from 16epi to 30epi.  This took some head scratching and resleying as I realized I hadn't counted width correctly...  It also made tension and beating a little different, but the result was worth it.  I started playing with a variety of weft colours, first in plain weave and then, as I got bolder, a variety of twills.  It took me most of the 3 yard warp to get comfortable throwing the shuttle, mostly because I wasn't putting enough tension on the warp at first.  It is one thing that is quite different on the floor loom, compared to the RH loom.

The final cloth is beautiful in a random kind of way.  Everyone keeps asking me what it will be and I tell them it already is what it was intended to be:  a learning experience and a reference. 

I can feel and see the differences in the setts, wefts and weave structures. I can see how the weft colour and size interacts with the different colours and how the stripes show up. It provides a ton of information I can use to plan projects and I learned a ton winding warp, painting warp, dressing the loom and weaving.

And yes, I actually like the floor loom.  This one isn't as noisy as many looms are and boy, is it fast!  I think the fact that she is an antique adds to her appeal.  She is a direct tie up jack loom, a simple workhorse who still works very well despite her age - she is somewhere between 100 and 115 years old. She started her life in a nunnery in Quebec and was used there well into the mid 20th Century, Jan adopted her at the Great Glebe Garage Sale in the late 1980's but she has been in storage a lot since; she deserves to be used.  She is missing some original hardware, but my Dad (the machinist) and Jan's husband Glenn (the blacksmith) can make more authentic replacements at some point.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Warning: This Bunny Hole has LONG Tunnels

That should have been on the entrance to this weaving bunny hole I fell down some years ago.  I've been wandering around and getting into mischief here for quite some time but really, somebody should have warned me about the wretched side tunnels...

I started weaving to work with my handspun.  Thus far, only a very few of my woven projects have used handspun.  I found that I like to weave with cotton, but I don't like spinning it.  I also like new challenges.  Recall the conversation with Mandy on the way home from Ogdensburg when we picked up my Swatch Maker loom?  I decided to try Tencel.  Seems fairly straight forward.  Except, I never, ever, seem to take the straight forward route, do I?  ADHD has it's "creative advantages", ahem.  I decided I wanted to make painted warps.  But I know very little about fibre reactive dyes for cellulose fibres so I did a LOT of research.  I may be impulsive, but I am also a perfectionist, so when I get an impulse there is usually a lot of research before I actually dive in.  And, oh my, I have dived in DEEP this time.  This post covers barely the entrance to this particular tunnel, so stay tuned.

I learned from Paula Burch's excellent site "All About Hand Dyeing" a LOT about procion MX fibre reactive dyes.  Paula is a tie-dyer, not a yarn dyer, but she still had plenty of information to get me started.  What she didn't have was numbers.  I am a numbers person.  I like to measure and I don't like to waste.  For that, I found Diane Franklin's Dyeing Alchemy.  The book is very good, though again, it's about fabric dyeing, not yarn.  The spreadsheets are AWESOME!!!  I love a good spreadsheet and I will be able to adapt one of them for painting without much trouble, I think.

I ordered 25g jars of 8 colours of MX dye from G&S in Toronto, choosing the colours based on Paula Burch's table of "pure" MX dye colours.  There are 14 pure colours, the rest are mixes made by the various suppliers.  And I enlisted my friend, Sandy, to go on this adventure with me.  There was going to be sampling, a lot of sampling, a crazy amount of sampling.  I did a bunch of playing with the spreadsheets and made a plan.  2g samples of Tencel (I bought some from Brassard, then my friend Judith gifted me another pound cone to play with) are 15 yards long on my niddy noddy.  I made a lot of skeins of Tencel and some of cotton for comparison.  The first Friday we got together at the Guild Studio Sandy made a lot more skeins and we did value runs for Hot Pink, Orange, and Fuchsia and we did a mixing gradient of Hot Pink and Orange which was reported to give a truer primary red.  The skeins tangled rather terribly, but otherwise it went very well and we were pleased with our results. 
The trouble with fibre reactive dyes is they don't keep in solution very long, so I did some more at home that weekend to use up what we had.  I did the Royal Blue value run and the mixed runs of purples using the Royal Blue against the Hot Pink, Fuchsia and a mix of Hot Pink and Orange.

I made a lot more skeins of Tencel and cotton and figured out a way to tie them that I hoped would result in less tangling.  Fibre reactive dyes need a lot of stirring and washing and rinsing, which means a lot of moving skeins around in water.  We got together again on a Friday, this time our friend, Catherine, joined us.  We made more value runs with Bright Yellow, Golden Yellow, Ceruleun Blue and Black and we did the mixing gradients of greens with the blue and both yellows, and of oranges with Fuchsia and the yellows, and Fuschia and the blue.  That was plenty for one day.

At home, I finished the oranges, greens and purples that weren't done yet.  I thought I was doing it alone, but, true to form, Hobbes turned up to be the day's Helpy Helper.  He thought maybe he'd like to try purple highlights on his ginger.  I convinced him that he is gorgeous the way he is and, after checking the set up thoroughly to satisfy himself that I could manage, left me be to get on with it.

Now we have a set of samples to evaluate and work from and we have learned a lot.  I need to get them into a sample book so I can show them to you in an organized way.  There will still be more samples and then we will start sampling actual warps.  But first, Jan is going to teach me to use a warping reel!

Sunday, 29 May 2016


Back in January I ordered a "Swatch Maker 3 in 1" loom from Purl & Loop.  I know I should sample, but the loom takes a lot of yarn to do that.  The little Swatch Maker takes a lot less yarn and I can get a decent sample that will tell me quite a bit in not a lot of time.  And it is quite portable.  It arrived in Ogdensburg, NY at "My US address" and my friend, Mandy, and I went on a little road trip to pick it up.  Ogdensburg is just across the border from Prescott, ON, about 45min from here.  Mandy also had parcels waiting for herself so we shared the trip. 

Mandy has been weaving a very, very long time.  She belongs to the "Complex Weavers" group and mostly weaves on 8 or more shafts.  She has come around to my joy in my RH looms and does admit that they have a real place in weaving.  She has finally stopped asking when I will try a "real loom" and accepts that I already have more than half a dozen quite real looms, which together take less space than her smallest floor loom *.  She is, however, a brilliant travel companion and gladly shares her wealth of weaving knowledge.  She thought the little Swatch Maker was a very good purchase and looked forward to seeing it in use.  On the way home we talked about projects and yarns and sett (I'm still struggling with that one, hand me a knitting yarn and I can usually guess within one or two sizes what will give the right gauge and feel but I am totally lost with weaving structures and yarns, Mandy says it will come with experience).  Somewhere about Kemptville I was firmly resolved to try Tencel next, but that is a different tunnel off this bunny hole I am happily lost in and I will tell you about that another day, or days, or maybe over the next few months, it's a REALLY, REALLY long tunnel and I'm a little nervous and a lot excited about where it might end up...

*(In case somebody is keeping score:  3 RH looms, 1 inkle, 1 Swatch Maker, 1 Brio 2-shaft (designed as a toy, but it really does work!  Thing Tall made a lovely long swatch on it when he was about 8), 1 4 shaft Guild Craft and Thackery (an antique, I haven't actually used it yet, should try it this summer and tell you more about it) plus some peg looms, another little toy tapestry loom, an old looper loom...  If it makes interlacements, it's a REAL LOOM).

Back to the Swatch Maker:  the first thing I realized is that I am not fussed for needle weaving, so this little beast needed some heddles.  First try was a bit less than successful, but I googled (I do so love the Google) and found a very good video by Noreen Crone-Findlay on YouTube.  I decided to use dpns for the heddle rods, so I needed some end caps, otherwise known as point protectors.  Wool-Tyme had notions on sale for February, so off I went.  And discovered they were having their annual inventory sale - 20% off everything.  Those point protectors ended up costing $164! - $8 for two packages of 4 point protectors, $75 for yarn for a new gansey for Himself and $80 for a totally impulsive purchase of Lang Novena for a woven shawl.  I NEVER do that.  I always have a plan.  I bought 5 skeins in total not really sure how I was going to use it. 

I had a think, I pulled yarn off the skein and discovered that each colour was a good 2 yards long and the full repeat was something like 15 yards.  Now how was THAT going to work?

The Rigid Heddle Adventure group on FaceBook pointed me to a lovely little online book called "A Twill of Your Own" that shows a wide variety of possibilities with colour and weave effects from a wide variety of twill structures on 2-8 shafts, including a nice section on 3 shaft twills.  3 shaft patterns, now you're talking, my RH loom is MADE for 3 shaft.   Unfortunately the book has the pictures turned 90deg for some reason.  The warp runs horizontal in the picture, which meant the pattern that most caught my eye wouldn't work the way I saw it.  But, it gave me a starting point.  I spent some quality time with iWeaveIt and came up with a structure that looked promising.  I plotted out a few variations of the striping and then warped the Swatch Maker.  I went to Wabi-Sabi and bought some Ashford Tekapo 3-ply in Charcoal Grey for the background warp and the weft.  It's a LOT cheaper and it shows off the Novena very nicely.

 Here it is warped with some of the continuous string heddles installed.  The section of yarn that came off first from the skein had the least contrast in colour to the background Tekapo, so it's harder to see the warping pattern, but it's there.

 This is the back.  You are supposed to take the yarn all the way across the back of the loom, but that takes more yarn and this did seem to work just fine.

Here is the finished and washed swatch.  I ended up choosing a variation on the more widely spaced striping over to the left.  The sample tells me that my sett (12epi) makes a nice, drapey cloth, and how much shrinkage to expect.

From there I designed a shawl which is still on the loom.  I'll tell you all about it when I get it done.

Monday, 25 April 2016

I Have Been Weaving

But not blogging.  It's just not a habit for me yet.  But I have some things to share, and I've realized that I can do that anytime, in any order, even if the "thing" happened some time ago.

My friend, Marie-France, co-owns a small knitting, spinning and weaving shop here in Ottawa called "Wabi-Sabi".  This winter she purchased quite a lot of Louet Euroflax lace yarn.  It's a 100% linen singles yarn, about the size of 2/8 cotton, that comes in lots of colours.  One of her shop assistants suggested she ask me to make something in it as a sample for the shop.  She brought a selection of the yarns to a Guild meeting, let me poke around a bit, then told me I could have 2 cones if I made a sample.  I had a think, and when I went to the shop about a week later to pick up my new 15dpi heddles I had an idea.  I took 2 cones home, one in "heron grey" and one in "lavender" 630yds/100g each, to make two dishtowels in 4 thread waffle.

Now I had to figure out how to make the colours work together and use up nearly all of both of them.  I played around on iWeaveIt for quite a bit until I had a stripe pattern in both directions that pleased me.  It's a fibonnaci sequence counting by waffle units.  I made my best guess about sett and picks per inch, figuring the towels would be my sampling.  I used 2 15dpi heddles threaded at 150% for an effective sett of 22.5epi.

Hobbes helped me warp.  If it hadn't been for Himself coming to the rescue, Hobbes might now be playing the part of Schroedinger's Cat in a real life re-enactment of the thought experiment since I wasn't sure if I wanted him dead or alive... (for those who do not have a physicist/engineer in the family tree, Schroedinger was trying to illustrate concepts of Quantum Physics and the problem of the effect of observation by imagining (he didn't actually do this) a cat in a sealed box with a vial of poison gas which would be released by the decay of a radioactive isotope.  At any time, you wouldn't know for sure if the cat was dead or alive unless you looked, so, mathematically, the cat could be both alive and dead at the same time).   In other words, Hobbes was being an extra large pain in the backside, in that, half way through warping, he decided to jump on the warp which pulled both the peg and loom part way out of their clamps, thus ruining my tension.  Thankfully, the warp didn't come off the peg, nor did the peg come completely out of its clamp.  He's cute, but don't be fooled.  He is 19lbs of PITA when I'm weaving.

Himself extracted Hobbes from the warp and removed him from the room with stern words, then discussed possible improvements to the clamping systems, none of which he could make happen right then.  Then he disappeared for a bit, returning with the following brilliantly simple solution:

A 2x4" and two Quick Clamps and the loom no longer shifts from the tension of warping, nor from the assault on the warp of 19lbs of "Helpy Helper".  Linen yarn really does need firm tension, the loom was probably slipping even before Hobbes landed on the warp, so I'm really pleased with this little innovation.

A stiff drink and grateful thanks to Himself later I did manage to get the loom warped and ready to weave.

There are variations of waffle weave for the RH, but most of them seem to be simple warp and weft floats laid out as a grid.  True waffle is actually like this:

The threading is a point twill on any number of shafts.  "Stitchers" (that's what Sharon Alderman calls them) of plain weave hold down diamonds of warp and weft floats.  The longer the longest floats are, the deeper the "pockets"of the waffle will be. 

This is what the fabric looks like after washing.  You can see the longest floats are loose on the surface while the "stitchers" are pulled into little pockets.

To make this happen I threaded the draft above with the 1s in the front heddle holes, the 2s and 4s in the slots and the 3s in the back heddle holes.  Then I picked up the 4s on a pickup stick.  The iWeaveIt draft shows a "lift plan".  The numbers in the treadling show which threads should be lifted for each shot.  By manipulating the heddles and the pickup stick in various combinations I could make all the lifts I needed happen. 

The weaving went very well with a little help from Peggy Osterkamp's blog and her Tensioning Linen Warps post.  Linen yarn really is hard to tension.  It is so stiff it will put your eye out.  And knots slip.  And you think you have it all lashed on nicely and you blink and everything is all over the place.  The misting trick worked a charm.  Mostly.  I still had to fuss with the threads on the outside edges, but I often have problems with those.  For the most part, stuffing bits of rolled up napkin under the loose warp threads at the back beam solved that issue.  I also found that the most recent weft shot bounced back when beaten but a firm beat with the heddle seemed to pack in shots lower down appropriately. 

I ran out of the lavender yarn.  I'm not sure if there wasn't quite as much on the cone as stated or if I made a mistake in measuring somewhere.  iWeaveIt did warn me I was cutting it pretty close.  I think the hems were a bit longer than I had intended when I did the calculations.  Also, my picks per inch weren't quite what I expected.

Here is one of the finished towels.  I did press them, but linen wrinkles when you look at it sideways and this one has been travelling a bit.  Fresh off the loom the cloth was almost as stiff as thin cardboard but just one washing softened them up quite a bit

I think this is the one that didn't quite make it to the end of the planned stripe sequence, the longer one is hanging out at Wabi-Sabi for a while.  There should be a short stripe of lavender weft at the top to balance it.  Despite that, I am rather pleased with the overall effect.  Next time, I think I will start with a wider stripe (skipping the "2" and "3" unit wide stripes maybe and going straight to "5") so that I can end with the last stripe completed and a short contrasting stripe at the top. 

I should probably do it again and write out a pattern.  But, for now, I have something completely different on the 32" loom that I will tell you all about another time.