Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Knitting, and cats!

Last night I finished knitting a little jumper for age 3-6 months, knitted in a Trekking sock yarn and wonderfully untraditional baby colours. It took less than one 100g ball to knit this. The pattern, and idea for using sock yarn, is from Viridian Yarn, and the person who put me on to this idea was a very kind and helpful shop assistant at K1 Yarns shop on West Bow in Edinburgh. I wanted to knit something colourful that would wash well. As a keen sock knitter, I have many examples of well worn and wash tested sock yarn!

I have also used Viridan patterns to knit hats and mitts, these are in oddments of Opal yarns from a couple of years back:
A great UK source for buying sock yarns (next best to your local shop, if you have one) is the Knitting and Crochet Guild.
They provide excellent mail order service.

And now to introduce our little cats, first the cat superior, Phoebe of the bright green eyes:
Phoebe is 2 years old, and she and her niece, Annie, came from the Dove Cat Rescue Sanctuary to live with us about 5 weeks ago. Phoebe is very dignified and ladylike and tells Annie in no uncertain terms if Annie's manners are not up to scratch! However, she also in odd moments of tenderness licks Annie's little head with great affection. She is a no. 1 mouser who found all the places we've had mice in the house within an hour of arrival and caught a mouse almost first time she went out of doors.

And here's little Annie, a.k.a Little Annie Acorn (after her favourite toy) or occasionally Annie Oakley, as in "Annie get your acorn". Annie runs everywhere until she's tired out, then she suddenly stops:
She also talks lots and loud! She burbles and murmurs and sings.

But... when she meets the half-stray that feeds next door, 3 times her size and a tough fighter, she makes the most extraordinarily loud wails and hisses and growls all at once. Very effective! Old Stumpy Tail backs off. Especially when Annie's sitting in the only gap under a large conifer hedge and there's no way past her (as at 4.30 a.m. the other morning).

I miss the irreplaceable, most handsome and characterful Oscar cat immensely. But these two are lots of fun and beautiful and we love them.

(Yes you sharp eyed spinners - that's the shadow of the flyer of my Ashford Joy wheel!)

See how Annie sometimes sleeps, her little green eyes not quite closed, but definitely asleep. I never saw a cat do this before. It's as if she's been so busy and now she's so tired she just forgot to quite shut them.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

A Universal Tie up for a Countermarch Loom

Janet Phillip's book directs countermarch loom owners to use a universal tie up to weave the sample blanket - unless you have 14 treadles. I have 10 treadles.

I had heard of universal tie up before, and although I could understand easily how with a jack loom you can tie one shaft to one treadle, I did not see how on earth it could work for a countermarch. Generally, with countermarch looms the rule is that every treadle lifts or lowers every lam. So, you don't leave any gaps in the tie up unless you have unused shafts.

After all the playing about I did learning to get my countermarch tied up and balanced, I couldn't accept this universal tie up notion - except I had to because I believe that Janet knows what she's writing about. So I put disbelief to one side (if there's one thing I've learned in life it's how little I know) and I tied up on the scheme she gives. This tie up enables plain weave, and lifts for 2/2 twill, 3/1 twill and 1/3 twill.

Using 8 treadles, and 4 shafts, the scheme is:

treadle 1 tied to upper lams for shafts 1 and 3
treadle 2 tied to lower lams for shafts 1 and 3
treadle 3 tied to upper lam shaft 1, and lower lam shaft 3
treadle 4 tied to lower lam shaft 1 and upper lam shaft 3

treadle 5 tied to lower lam shaft 2 and upper lam shaft 4
treadle 6 tied to upper lam shaft 2 and lower lam shaft 4
treadle 7 tied to lower lams shafts 2 and 4
treadle 8 tied to upper lam shafts 2 and 4

It's a very skimpy looking tie up compared to the normal countermarch arrangement:

You always use two treadles together, and if you get the right combination it works! However, my initial skepticism nearly caused me to give up before I started. Especially when having followed the basic instructions I got to this vision of chaos:

I stomped downstairs to make a cup of tea, shouting out "doesn't work". Fortunately I live with a man who likes solving problems. Keeps me on my toes. "It should do" he said, "I read the book and it's logical, I'll have a look at it in a moment...."

That had me running back upstairs with the cry of "If it does work, then I CAN do it, it's MY mechano set, MY model railway..."

(Sad isn't it, these are references to childhood 30 plus years ago when my brother had engineering toys and and I wasn't allowed in the room when they were out. I had to make do with wool, a crochet hook and bits of string and card for constructing things (I managed to make a theatre for my string puppets)... if only someone had given me a loom in those days!) (Later in life I made up for the frustration by working for engineering firms and playing with old motorbikes!)

I got the book out again and checked I had done everything as Janet directs. Then I looked at the ties, and decided that my normal principles applied: upper lam ties need around two texsolv notches slack and lower lam ties should be taut. It only took a handful of alterations and suddenly it worked.

The treadling plans in the book for the sample blanket show shaft lifts. For each lift, I was going to have to use two treadles, so I copied out the diagram showing in the bottom row the treadles and above the shafts lifted.And this I pinned to a handy little cork board on the castle of my loom. (I'd been wondering what it that was for).
Then, for each pattern I wove I wrote the shaft lifts in order on a small white board which I placed at the side of the loom.
It's not a very clear photo, but I divided the list with horizontal lines as this helps me keep track of where I have got to. Then I recited the pattern to myself as I went, "4 - and - 5, then 3 - and - 5". I found I could get into a nice rhythm for weaving this way.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Along the way...

Here are photographs and some of the story of how I got my sample blanket woven. This special blanket was designed by Janet Phillips and the instructions for weaving it are in her new book Designing Woven Fabrics.

This was not only the widest warp I have used so far, but also the most complicated as the ten different weave structures had different numbers of threads and there are two green threads to separate each group. Most of the blanket is woven with 2/6 cotton yarn, but the last section is 2/12. I made myself a list of all the warp sections and ticked them off carefully as they were wound. I used a tie-on tag to name each warp section A - J (as in the book).

Once the sections were wound, I wondered how I was going to get everything on the loom in the right order. I decided to set the groups out on the floor in the correct order to start with, and then thread through the stick I was going to use to tie on to the back apron of the loom. See above. The red cotton ties I used to manage the warp show up clearly in this photo.

So far so good. Now how to get the warp on the loom. Hmm. slowly, I reminded my self, step by step. I pulled out the apron from the back of the loom and laid it on the floor, lined up the stick with the warp on and put the lease rods in the cross.

In order to tie the stick with the warp onto the stick in the apron rod with all equal length linen ties, I placed one on the other and then used a boat shuttle to tie around for consistency. It worked well. The tied loop slides easily off the pointed end of the boat shuttle and the size of the shuttle gave just the size of loop I was looking for.

The next stage where I stopped and scratched my head a bit was looking at the beautifully ordered warp lying behind the loom and wondering how to lift it and turn up and over to get it on the loom. The answer came in the form of one of those handy cotton bags that are sold as alternatives to plastic bags. I grouped the warp threads up in a bag and then it was easy to lift everything up and over onto the loom, before piling the warp on the shafts while I tied on the lease sticks and got the half-inch count groups into my half-inch raddle - see below. (All that green thread in the foreground is one of the selvedges.)
I was happy to be making steady progress.

Soon after I ran in to an unexpected difficulty. With narrow warps I had weighted groups of warp threads at the front of the loom with plastic bottles half full of water. These I have previously hung over the loom bench, winding a bit at a time as they lift from floor to the bench seat.

This time it all went wrong. It wasn't ideal that I was only able to wind a very short proportion of this long warp at one time. It was fatal to the method that the weight of the bottles when they were all off the floor tipped the loom bench over. Aggh!

I tried having the bottles further off from the bench and dragging them along the floor. This resulted in bottles leaking water all over the floor and soggy warp.

By now, I felt it was "one of those days". Gave up, slept on it.

Next day, I thought through the problem carefully. I did not want to have to ask for an assistant. On principle, it's a bad idea. I just want to get on and weave when I want to weave and not have to wait around for someone else. Yes I could ask this time but it was better to solve the problem properly.

So, I needed an alternative weight. How much weight? I put one of the pots of water on my scales and found it was 750g. Now that's a familiar sounding weight. Sounds a bit like the weight of some of my cones of yarn - and there's no particular problems with dragging some of those along the floor.

The also bring a touch of colour to the process! It worked a treat. Soon the warp was on the loom. Here you see how lovely it is looking. My special homemade 2nd raddle sits on the warp beam to give even spacing.

Now here's a new device. You may remember I have previously written of clamping the warp on the back beam to prevent the threads slipping while I thread the heddles and reed. I had found that pressing the warp between a stick and the warp beam was causing it to dig into the beam. I don't want to make thread grooves in the beam. I reasoned that something was needed as a cushion to apply friction (rather than just force). So I fitted a rubber draught excluder strip on my clamp stick.


Something else I tried out was individual nylon yarn ties for tying on thread groups at the front of the loom. There's a technique using shoelaces I seem recommended, and I put this together with a suggestion that nylon cord was good because it lasted well and could be used again and again.

Unfortunately it is also slippery, and unties itself.

So, I went back to my favourite linen warp yarn. It takes time to tie on lots of separate groups, but this is becoming my favourite technique as it is easy to undo an individual group to adjust the tension.

In the photo below I had woven in an inch of bulky chenille weft yarn, stopped and adjusted tension, then woven another half inch. The stick lying across the warp shows it was very close to being even all the way across. I can see just one section, 2nd from left, which is a little slack allowing the weft to beat in further. After re-tying the 3 groups concerned I'm ready to weave.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Designing Woven Fabrics - the sample blanket

From this box of yarns I ordered from William Hall & Co.:

(not the yellow, that's for another project)

I have woven this:

With a determined effort, weaving 8 different patterns each evening for the last couple of days, I finished my sample blanket before going on holiday last week. This is the blanket designed by Janet Phillips. Her book, Designing Woven Fabrics, gives the instructions for weaving this blanket and then directions for how to use it in designing your own fabrics.

I was able to take my blanket when I went to stay with my Aunt, an artist who enjoys beautiful textiles, and I also to it to show a fellow member of the Online Guild (from whom I was buying a second hand knitting machine - more on that another time!). I think they were both nearly as impressed with the blanket as I am. I don't think it's big headed to say that! So much of the achievement is the work of Janet Phillips, who came up with the idea of writing the book and designed and wove the blanket (more than once) before writing her instructions.

After finishing, the blanket is 274 cm long and 50 cm wide. There are 10 warp patterns across the width, and 50 different treadling patterns, giving no less than 500 different weaves! Wow! I can loose myself trying to choose a favourite square. All the rows are photographed in the book alongside the treadle patterns (very useful for spotting errors as you weave).

It's not easy for me to photograph such a large blanket, I tried several times before I realised that hanging it on the back of the loom would give an idea of scale. I took a few more pictures to indicate just how varied the patterns are:

An important question is - what will I do next? The instructions for weaving this blanket are only part of Janet's book. I've been reading on to learn about other aspects of design, including colour and yarn choices, and see examples that Janet gives of items she wove using some of the sample blanket weaves.

I think I need a better understanding of yarn and colour before I proceed. I went back to Ann Sutton's book "Colour and Weave Design" and to Janet's earlier book, "The Weaver's Book of Fabric Design".
Chapter 8 of Janet's book describes a colour and weave sampler, and Ann Sutton's book is an illustration of a 500 square colour and weave sampler. Ann suggests that if you have her book you don't need to weave the sampler for yourself. I think I do. I enjoyed the pictures in Janet's book of the sample blanket, but weaving it made it real for me and gave me something I can examine closely and feel for myself. The feel of a weave is important, and the way it looks from different angles, and also, if you weave it yourself, you have seen what it happens as it comes into being.

I also want to weave a different colour sample, using several colours across the warp and the same colours in bands in the weft. I want to see how they interact in plain and simple twill weaves.

Maybe I'm being ambitious, again, but I think that these will be invaluable to weave and have for myself.

Before I move on, I have several little collections of photos from various stages in the process of weaving this blanket, so, if you're interested you may learn from my mistakes!