Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Looms are made of wood...

O.K., so you knew that, or to quote molesworth ""as any fule kno"" (see end). The import of my chosen title is this - what one woodworker has put together another can modify / adapt / rebuild as necessary.

So, having for some time thought that my loom didn't look quite right and might not be the proper shape, and then I after getting irritated during the last piece of weaving by the upper jacks sliding forwards so the shafts were catching on each other, I got out a spirit level.

There was a difference of a few millimetres in height between the back and front of the support for the jacks. For the last length of warp I used a minor modification - an old birthday card folded up to lift the front support.


Then it was time to take a proper look at the loom, with set square and tape measure.

Hey, you can see it for yourself in that picture! The top has dropped at the front. Actually, when we looked closer nothing was bent and the fastening screws hadn't shifted, so it has never been right. That explains why the previous owner was trying out plastic spacers to keep the jacks and the lams separate (!) (note (from one wise after the event): when buying a second hand loom take a tape measure, set square, spirit level and look for faults in the frame.)

It just so happens that last week we had a large delivery of sycamore wood for building a new staircase. The woodyard also sent the offcuts, which included some good sized pieces of wood. The resident woodworker got to work for me with his power saw, hand plane and router. The new supports were then finished with a couple of coats of danish oil. They look lovely. It's not the same as Finish birch (as used by Toika) but the wood is pale, close grained, strong and beautiful.

See how square the corners look now:


The posts were fitted with simple plates to make them "I" section that are screwed into the frame top and bottom.


See below for the tenon joint that holds the fixing plate:


Just to follow up the literary quote in the first line, this is from "How to be Topp" by Geoffrey Williams & Ronald Searle, first published 1954, the copy in our house is a well read and loved falling-apart Puffin edition of 1964. Since I discovered this book a few weeks ago our tabby cat Pheobe is at times nicknamed "molesworth" for her quick intelligence, clear no-nonsense view of life, imaginative adventures, and habit of "toughing up" lil' Annie cat, a.k.a "molesworth 2". Jaspar, the smart neutered-male ginger cat over the road is "Basil Fotherington-Thomas" - who skips around saying "Hello clouds, hello sky" and sometimes gets invited to join molesworth's adventures.
(See this post of July for an introduction to Annie & Phoebe).
(See here for Wikipedia entry on Nigel Molesworth.)

(Just to make sure this is on the record, my loom is a Toika Norjaana 8 shaft countermarch, and I love it because it is beautiful, has a good strong frame, and I can use it for all sorts of weaving - and it will take modifications!)

Saturday, 18 October 2008

My second jumper

Here's a picture of me in the second jumper knitted to my own pattern:

Sorry about lack of smile for the camera! I was a bit anxious about whether I had got the set up right - I was using the camera's self-timer setting and had to guess the focusing. The camera was on a book shelf pointing in roughly the right direction and I just hoped for the best. It worked - what a super camera! I'm using a Canon 350D (digital SLR) which has all sorts of features - every now and again I go back to the instruction book and learn a new one.

About the jumper: it's knitted in Twilleys Freedom spirit and I drew up the pattern myself. I finished the first jumper in this pattern and wool in April, and to celebrate I started another straight away. It got put on one side over the summer while I knitted socks and baby things, but as the weather turned cold I realised that I shall be wanting warm woolies soon. I knitted up the second sleeve and the collar in a couple of weeks.

The wonderful book from which I learnt how to design a knitting pattern is Montse Stanley's Knitting - Your own designs for a perfect fit, published by David & Charles, England, 1982, ISBN 0-7153 8227 6. This book is absurdly cheap second hand in the UK, see abebooks.co.uk, or Scottish Fibres who are offering a copy in good condition for £3. Go on someone, follow my link and snatch it up, it's a treasure!! It's about knitting technique, different stitches, but above all, pattern designing made straightforward so you can D.I.Y.

In the background of the photo, as I'm sure you noticed(!) is my loom and the latest colour samplers.

Something else I've been up to recently is washing fleece. I was given a couple of sacks of Jacob's (possibly equivalent to 3 sorted fleeces). Doesn't it look lovely? And all now ready to card and spin.... it feels medium soft, has a very distinct and tight crimp, no lustre at all, a bit finer than the Shetland wool which is a usual favourite of mine.


A tip I was given when I bought my special Timbertops spinning wheel from the Williamson's last year was that Ann separates the out the colours of a Jacob's fleece, cards them separately, then combines the colours again as she spins. This gives a beautiful marled yarn.

I have about 3 x the amount of fleece, in the above photo.


Note the very useful plastic trays from the local organic grocer. His supplier doesn't take the trays back, so he's pleased if anyone can make use of them. They are very good for drying wool, easy to carry, and ventilated as it's an open structure.

We also use them in the garden, for organising pots of seeds, shifting pots of plants about, and sometimes for temporary planting of things that need more space than an ordinary plant pot.

I've got a lot of spinning to do on the dark nights ahead - I still haven't spun the Wensleydale and Ryeland fleeces that I washed last year.


Monday, 13 October 2008

More colour weaving

I wanted to take a series of colour photos of two more colour samplers that I've just finished weaving. You may recall that I took lots of photos of the first two, having taken them outside on a sunny day. Since I finished these samplers on Friday we have only had sunshine at times when I am at work. I'd hoped to get photos this morning, but it was particularly grey and dark.

Maybe some other time. I have a few pics here for you, but they are taken with flash which doesn't really do justice to the colours or the texture of the fabric.

However, to start with, my latest "gadget". I tried separately weighted threads for my floating selvedges. They worked a treat. All those soggy, slack and broken selvedge issues gone at once!

These new samplers are one woven in the "shadow weave" pattern from Janet Phillip's sample blanket.



The pattern starts with 3/1 twill which is weft faced (over three threads, under one) then has a balanced section of 2/2 twill before moving into the warp faced 1/3 twill. Here's a closer look:


Both the above photos were taken on the loom, weaving progresses from bottom of the picture up.

Once again, the distinctive bunches of three warp threads from the threading of groups of 3 threads in the reed, once more sett at 30 epi, went when the cloth was off the loom, washed and ironed.


I picked this section of the cloth because in the plain weave I liked the combination of orange and lilac threads. It was subtle and interesting. In the 2/2 twill it was still quite good. In the above cloth, I really don't like it.

Photos of my other plain weave sampler will have to wait for good light. I had lots of fun doing stripes of alternate colour in different widths, and ended up with a section for which I ordered in more yarns so I could use white, light grey, dark grey and black weft stripes to show up colour value. More on why I did this and how it worked another time.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Dyed with home-grown nettles

We have a large garden where there's spaces for interesting weeds to lurk. This means I can always find useful dye plants, such as nettle, dock and bramble.

Early this summer I dyed some Shetland wool tops with nettles from the garden. I have learnt by this experience and consequent advice from more experienced dyers that if you put combed wool tops in the dye bath they felt a bit. Oops!

Fortunately this was an inconvenience rather than a disaster. I had to tease the wool apart with my fingers, then I used hand carders to get the wool ready to spin.


I'm very pleased with this yarn. You can probably tell it is not the best, most evenly spun yarn, but it's not too bad and certainly good enough for it's intended use in a knitted hat to wear for gardening in the winter. I'm thinking of using some other natural dyed yarn colours and natural black Shetland for contrast.

I mixed the two colours on the carders, they aren't totally blended as I wanted a marled yarn. rather than a blended shade. The mordant in the original dye bath, to get the yellow, was alum (10%) and cream of tartar (8%). Then, after removing half the wool I added a pinch of iron to modify the colour and give green.

I wish I'd had more time for using natural dyes this summer, but summer was gone before the sun came out this year and many garden things did not get done.