It all started when I realised that no, I really didn’t like knitting with cotton. And I have quite a lot of cotton in stash. What else could I do with it? Weaving?
I had heard about weaving, and when watching a few podcasts, it looked like everyone was taking on weaving. At the beginning of the year, I went back to my local spinning, weaving and dyeing guild meetings, and there were quite a few ladies weaving with all sorts of looms. So I did my homework, asked questions, as to whether it was possible to rent a loom from the guild, just to dip my toes in the water and see if I could see myself weaving. Just to use my stash, you see.
And once again, I have been struck by the generosity of people. First, I was given great advice. The ladies didn’t get upset at my never ending questions. And then, as I was about to go back to my spinning, with the head full of ideas, and about to place a request to rent a loom from the Guild, one of the ladies simply told me that she had an old, unloved little rigid heddle loom that could do with a bit of fixing, was not the best loom but could be enough to see whether I like weaving, and would I want to have it and give it a home.
Needless to say I took the generous offer, and a few days after, the little loom came home with me. In the meantime, I had ordered a book on Rigid Heddle weaving so I could “do my homework” and have an idea of what to do with it. After I took it home, I fixed a couple splits in the wood, re-tied a few bits and bobs, and promptly tried warping it.
As a warp, I used a black fingering weight, 100% BFL which I figured would be sturdy enough. Beginner error: black is not the best colour to see things… Also, the yarn was not smooth, and the shed was not always opening properly as the strands were a little grabby. The weft was a nice choice of baby alpaca, a light fingering with a lot of drape.
Two or three days after, I had finished weaving that warp. Cut off the thing from the loom. It looked decent for a first weaving project. I then spent an evening making a twisted fringe (it takes ages, but is a rather meditative process). Then soaked it, let it dry flat… and there was a nicely formed scarf with a lovely drape.
My next plan was to weave something like a blanket for the little one I was expecting. I had read somewhere that it was possible to weave panels, and join them together afterwards. This trick enables one to create a blanket wider than the loom. My little loom measuring 15 inches, I couldn’t make a piece of fabric wider than 14 inches or so: on the loom, the fabric is under tension and usually becomes 10-15% less off the loom… and then there is the potential shrinkage of the yarn, especially cotton!
So I made a few plans, with my rather large stash of organic cotton 4ply in mind (Rowan Purelife Organic Cotton 4ply, now discontinued). The plans revolved around the idea of weaving an odd number of panels (3 or 5?) so that there would be no seam right in the middle, as with my luck, chances are that it would be slightly off-centre and bother me!
I didn’t have quite enough of a single colour to do the weft for the whole blanket in one colour. So I decided on two weft colours. I am not beating the weft evenly enough to pretend to have horizontal stripes that match. So I decided against horizontal stripes. Hence the final choice of 3 strips with the weft in one single colour (white), 2 panels with weft in another colour (beige-ish). The vertical stripes were created with all the other colours I had in stash. The width of the stripes I created very scientifically by choosing among the elements of the Fibonacci* sequence of numbers (not keeping them in order as I didn’t want the stripes get wider and wider), bearing in mind that I wanted all strips to be roughly the same width, and to work with the amount of yarn I had in stash. It made the warping sessions quite entertaining! Ok, I heard you… call me geek if you like! :)
When I completed all 5 panels, I laid them all on the floor and tried to find a combination of stripes I liked. Of course, all my panels didn’t have exactly the same length. I decided to take care of that later, with a hem to enclose the uneven side(s). With a simple whip stitch, I attached the panels together, starting at the bottom of the blanket consistently. That way, that side would be almost even too. When all panels are attached, I hemmed carefully the top and bottom sides (leaving the edges “raw” as is can’t unravel from there), trimming the extra fabric where needed. Surprisingly, I found the hand stitching very soothing and quite quick too!
Finally, I put the finished blanket in water with a little soap to soak, rinsed it, and let it dry. I even took the iron out (it’s cotton after all!) to even out some folds! And voila! The blanket is ready to be puked on.
And the loom is ready for warping the next project. What will it be? Possibilities are endless, even if I just consider my stash…
Above and under… And no, I didn’t need another craft!
- Fibonacci sequence is defined by the recurrence relation: un = un-1 + un-2 ; with seed values: u0 = 1 and u1 = 1
So Fibonacci numbers are: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, …
- Elements of vocabulary for those new to weaving:
- Warp: the “vertical” strands that form the length of the woven fabric
- Warping: preparing the loom with said strands, which need to all be at (roughly) the same tension for an even fabric. An even tension also makes weaving easier and a more pleasant experience overall.
- Weft: the “horizontal” strands that form the width of the fabric. This is the yarn that gets woven “above and under” the warp. Mastering an even beat and clean edges are key to a nice looking item.
- Beat: the action of putting the weft in place, against the already woven part. On a rigid heddle loom, the beat is usually done with the heddle, by sliding it along the warp and pushing the weft in place.
- Rigid Heddle loom: a simple loom with only one heddle (at least on my loom), where the strands are placed into holes and slots alternatively. The heddle has three positions: up, down, and neutral. Neutral has the warp all flat and horizontal. Up and down open one shed each: either with all threads in holes above the threads in slots, or the other way round.
- Shed: the space created in the warp when some threads of the warp (called “ends”) are moved up (or down) while the other ones remain in place.
- Shuttle: the tool (with my simple loom: a flat stick with a slit at each end, and around which is wound the weft) which enables to bring the weft across the open shed.
- Weaving motion for a simple weave on a simple rigid heddle loom is as follows, starting with the heddle in the up position for instance: *pass shuttle through the shed just open, heddle neutral and forward to beat, heddle back in the down position, pass shuttle back into the shed, heddle neutral and forward to beat, heddle back in the up position. And repeat from *