Wednesday 26 September 2007


I've cut the first samples, of 8 different weave structures, off my sample warp now. I washed them vigourously in hot water so that the yarns would shrink and the washing/drying help to stablise the fabric. Using my sewing machine, I made lines of plain stitching as basic hems before cutting the length of weaving into separate sections.

Now the samples are stitched onto sheets of cardboard along one edge, leaving the fabric otherwise loose so I can turn it over and see the reverse, and so it can be handled to check the "feel" and stretch of the weave.

Also on each record card are:

  1. a diagram of the loom tie-up, threading, treadling pattern and structure

  2. notes on type of yarn used, and where it came from

  3. a record of the sett (warp ends per inch) and the reed used

  4. pattern source / references

  5. miscellaneous notes about the weave structure or particular sample (anything I think I might find useful to know in the future)

As I organised my records, I was sorry to see how poor and irregular the selvedges are down one side of the first few samples I wove. However, there's some good news here, as I had become of this when I was weaving, and solved the problem.

There are many different problems affecting selvedges. I use "floating" selvedges, which are a couple of extra threads on either side of the cloth which do not form part of the pattern. These are very useful with most weaves.

Something I didn't do this time is to increase the density of warp threads in the last few dents of the reed before the selvedge. I have used this technique before, and found it very helpful to give a nice neat edge. Some of these 8 samples looked like they really should have had that knid of edge - the weaves that were least balanced with longest floats. The worst case was a length of sateen weave, which has long weft floats. The edges of this sample were drawn in and tending to curl up. However, a length of plain weave was absolutely fine. My conclusion is that in the future, when making sample weaves in preparation of a particular project, I will need to test out different arrangements of warp threads at the selvedges to see what is best for a particular weave and yarn.

The particular problem I'd had though with this sample weaving, which I was able to correct, was down to the way I was working with my right hand. I slowed down everything I was doing and looked at each part of the weaving process. I was allowing some extra weft thread across the width of the warp to allow for take up (in the unders and overs of the weft going around the warp) when the weft was beaten in.. I was using a Crossley end feed shuttle, which has a tension device to control the release of the weft yarn. I was pinching the beginning of a weft to prevent it pulling tight it when I pulled the shuttle out of the warp. I was beating evenly.

But, when the shuttle was in my right hand, I was tending to move my right hand back towards my body as I used my left hand to operate the beater. When the shuttle was in my left hand, I didn't do this, I held the shuttle close to the beater. Looking and watching carefully, I could see that certainly was causing a problem! When I moved the shuttle towards my body, the yarn at the selvedge was pulled back, compressing the weave at the right selvedge.

It's just one of those little personal eccentricities, not necessarily something all weavers would do, that goes back to the fact I injured my right arm very badly in an accident five years ago, and have only recently been learning to use it properly, having had many weeks of physiotherapy last year. I still tend to favour the left for physical work, and rest the right arm, all quite unconsciously, and have to learn to identify and then break my bad habits.

This does explain something that puzzled me for ages - I heard sometime last year that it is normal for weavers to form one selvedge better than the other, and that this tended to reflect whether one was right or left handed. As a right handed person, my right selvedge should have been better, it's taken this long to spot why it was worst!

Sunday 23 September 2007

Welcome to my library - some books on natural dyeing.

Today, I took time off, left my pre-occupations and hobbies at home and off I went to a secondhand book fair, partly to meet up with a friend, partly because you just never know what you might find in hunting around the book stalls. I often pick up interesting books on all kinds of subjects, e.g. on previous occasions, windmills, cheesemaking, architecture, Escher.

To my amazement, today I found a book I have been wanting, and I'm delighted with it. For just £3 I picked up a very good copy of "A Dyer's Garden", subtitle "from plant to pot - growing dyes for natural fibres", by Rita Buchanan, Interweave Press, 1995, ISBN 1-883010. I don't know how many copies of this special interest book, published in the U.S., might be in circulation in England, probably not many, so I think it was my lucky day. I already have another book by Rita, "A Weavers Garden", in the Dover republication of 1999, ISBN 0-486-40712-8.

The Weaver's garden book covers dye plants, so I'd not been entirely sure that I needed both books. I have discovered the content of the Dyer's book is quite different, and very useful. So, I have discovered that the Weaver's book is not a re-print, it covers different plants and has a more discursive approach. The Dover edition has few pictures, but is a very interesting read. Lots of background research went into the preparation for this book (and there's long lists of further reading). It covers history and chemistry as well as dye methods. It includes plants for soap, fibre, fragrance (e.g. to deter moths) and make tools. Both books include suggestions of planting schemes for different gardens.

The Dyer's book is smaller, and it's pretty. After chapters on choosing and growing plants, planning a garden, the basics of dyeing and a whole chapter on colours, the second half of the book is all double-page spreads each featuring a different plant. It has a picture of the plant, information about the plant and how to grow it and, on the facing page, dyeing information with a range of colour samples (in photos).

Both books are lovely, very readable.

As you will see from the picture above, I already had a number of books on dyeing. They all have different information and I value them all for different reasons, which I will tell you about in future posts. However, in the meantime you can see my review of a newly published book, Natural Dyes, by Linda Rudkin, pub. A & C Black 2007, The Textiles Handbook Series, ISBN 978-0-7136-7955-7 on the Textile Directory web site.

On weaving and things I've been learning.

I've been having a lovely time looking at waffle weave, also brighton honeycomb, then sateen and a 3-1 / 1-3 striped twill which should collapse into pleats when off the loom. I might have a go at some crepe weaves next. What I'm concentrating on here is different textures.

Earlier this year I spent a few weeks working with Bonnie Innouye's book "Exploring Multishaft Design" (Weavingdance Press, ISBN 0-9678489-0-3) which helped me develop an understanding of the possibilities for twill weaves with 8-shafts. I did a lot of design work using weaving software packages (I tried out a few demos and free packages while I was about it). The software was useful because I could look at weave pattern and change things here and there and see what difference the changes made.

At the moment, I'm happy doing my design notes using pens and graph paper. I've got one pen that's particularly useful, it is meant for calligraphy with a 2mm wide flat nib, and a small stroke nicely fills a 2mm square on the graph paper. I picked up the graph paper and pen because they were to hand, no need to switch on and boot up the computer. I'm very happy at the moment with the pen and paper.

Then it came to me, looking at my diagrams and weave diagrams in the books I've been consulting, that something has happened. Year ago, maybe even six months ago, I didn't understand these diagrams. Now I do. I look at pen strokes and think about overs and unders of yarn in cloth construction. I have some idea of the cloth that the diagram represents. What has happened? It's down to that time I spent playing with Bonnie's book, the software and the loom. I was trying different things, pushing past limits of my understanding, and learning from what happened on the loom. Oh, it's lovely to look back and know I have learnt something!

And another bit of progress yesterday - I was sitting under the loom to re-tie the treadles again, remembering how I discovered it's easier to do with my left arm reaching along between the lamms, and - in one of those sudden moments when a light turns on in your mind - I saw it would be so much quicker if I followed the ties for each lamm when tying up, instead of doing the all ties to each treadle in turn. I re-tied from a Brighton honeycomb pattern to sateen, 8-shafts, 8 treadles used, and lots of changes in just under 12 minutes. Wow! What a journey of exploring and understanding I have travelled - the first time I tied up the treadles on this loom it took 6 hours, over two days (December 2005).

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Treadles again, and a few inches woven.

I was very interested to read in Leigh's blog recently about her experience of tying her treadles on her new countermarche loom for the first time, and making adjustments to balance the shed. Leigh was using Joanne Hall's Tying Up the Countermarch Loom, which I haven't seen. In fact, I was short of information sources when I got my loom, I learnt a bit from the previous owner, and then I just spent ages analysing how everything worked.

I come from a family that includes several engineers and scientists, and have realised recently that "how does it work..." is the first thing that springs to mind when I look at any new machine or device of any kind. It's how I was brought up. The next question being, if it doesn't, how do we fix it? But this is a digression, just to explain my attitude towards looms, and also weave structures.

I've never had the sort of shed Leigh was after on her loom, where all the upper and lower threads are at the same level, although I can get fairly close. I stopped looking for perfection in this respect after someone suggested to me that the important thing was could I pass the shuttle through the warp and weave without problem. But when I saw what Leigh had acheived on her Glimakra, I thought I'd follow the same shed adjustment technique.

It didn't work for me. I ended up adjusting the foremost shafts, and when adjusted they sat lower than the shafts behind, in graduated steps. The loom wasn't balanced anymore, and the shed was no better. So, for now I have reverted to my own technique, which I find good enough. However, if anyone has other suggestions, I be interested to give them a try. (I'm wondering if the texsolv cords on my loom have stretched by different amounts, and if this would make a difference, it had been well used before I bought it.)

The front shafts need to raise or lower less than those behind, as for the same height lifted (or lowered) the thread is shifted more or less relative to the rest of the warp than a thread on a shaft further back. The first shaft lifts at a point about half an inch in front of the second, so threads lifted by these shafts are at a different angle compared to horizontal, etc, and the thread lifted by the 8th shaft is a a significantly different angle. I wish I'd drawn a diagram to show this, hope you can visualise it if you have no loom to play with. This means that the treadle must operate the back shafts before those at the front, and needs to lift the shaft higher for same angle in the warp.

I follow the basic rule that the treadles must be lower at the front. The ties to the back shafts connecting lower lams must have no slack at all, especially at the end nearest the lam hinges. Treadles nearer to the lam hinge have greater leverage (move the shafts more for same distance travelled) and are heavier to operate.

The treadles of the loom hang suspended from the lower lams, and my aim is that the weight should be evenly distributed between the tie cords so they do not alter the balance of the shafts above. It is more difficult to balance the loom if some shafts have more treadles suspended from them than others, and where some shafts hang from only one or two treadles. I have found that the balance is helped by using the two treadles farthest from the lam hinge for plain weave, so every shaft is tied to these two treadles. I've heard said, but needed to make this adjustment yet, that for some patterns it may be necessary to re-arrange the order of treadles compared to the pattern diagram, in order to get a good distribution of ties on the lams.

For the ties to upper lam, I've learnt that no treadle must hang on off just one these ties else it acts to prevent the shaft raising when a different treadle is used. Upper shaft ties need more slack when they are further from the lam hinge. I allow a couple of spare notches in the texsolv cord at the back nearest the lam hinge, increasing to 3 notches on the front of the same treadle, and to three or four on cords of the treadle furthest from the hinge.

I tie-up my treadles by these rules, then check the different treadles are giving reasonable sheds, making small adjustments where necessary. Only small adjustments - large changes set other parts of the system out of balance.

I think that's enough detail for now. Here's a photo showing another of those useful tools that collect around my workshop: a box. Just a nice height to rest the front treadles on while I tie-up. Supported treadles are so, so much easier to tie-up! And I aim to keep them all at about box height when they are tied, although the odd one a bit higher is fine and helps with identifying which treadle is which by feel alone.

The next picture shows where I sit to tie treadles especially since fitting the cloth aprons. I sit inside the loom frame, on the phone book, my legs under the lams and feet resting on the bar across the bottom of the front of the loom. I have to remember to turn my treadle diagram upside down, as it is usually drawn assuming I will be looking at the loom from in front.

I have only just worked out it is easiest to get my hands between the lams and ties if I reach the left arm in between the lams (This is instead of just thrusting my hands toward the point where I want them). I wonder why it took so long to realise this? See next photo. Five lams this side of my arm, the others pushed forwards.

Finally, some weaving. Here's the warp ends tied in small groups (two sets of 8 tied together) at the front apron rod, and then half a dozen rows of contrasting thread have been put through in plain weave, before beating all half dozen together (not after each row as usual) in order to show where the threads are tighter / looser and need adjustment. I thought about tying on larger groups of threads, as the tying and adjusting is tedious. However, small groups keep the warp nicely spread, so it is quicker to get to an even weave when I start putting the weft through.

You can see I've adjusted the warp, tried again, adjusted again, and now the weft threads are at about even tension.

Having got this far - at last - time to start pattern weaving! Here it is:

Monday 17 September 2007

Back to the loom.

As I was threading the heddles, I found that having the lease sticks unsupported was probably not ideal, the distorted path of the warp was leading to alternate warp looking longer than the others. Things getting out of alignment makes me a bit nervous. I don't like my warp tension to be uneven. I decided to support my lease rods better.

Sometime ago I tried a method that involved resting extra sticks between the shafts and back beam, but this wasn't ideal because the sticks were high at the back beam, so the lease rods weren't quite level and everything could slip out of place too easily.

This week's solution is shown in the photo. Another task for the G clamps! As these are oversize, 4 inch, clamps they easily coped with holding an extra pair of short sticks to support the lease rods.

When I was ready to tie to the front apron rod, I used an extra cotton cord at the outer edges of the apron rod tying it to the back beam. This held the apron rod steady so I could tie the warp threads and at this stage I removed the G clamps and used this string to support the lease rods as well. The reason for holding the apron rod steady like this is that otherwise it depends for support on the warp threads. I would tie the outer edges of the warp first and these would stablise the apron. The first bunches of warp are therefore difficult to tie, and adjustments are difficult, as all the weight of the apron is carried by the knots I'm tying. I've used a temporary extra tie like this a couple of times and found it makes the task much easier. See photo below, arrow points to the cotton cord at the outer edge of the apron.

As the weavers reading this know, there's another stage between threading the warp yarns through the heddles on the shafts and this stage of tying the warp to the front apron. That is the sleying of the reed. The reed hangs in a moving frame to beat weft threads forwards on the warp, with the aim of creating an even weave. For this sampler I'm preparing to weave, I am using a reed with twelve spaces, known as dents, to the inch. I'm threading 2 warp ends through every dent. Or that's the intention - spot the error in this next photo.

It may not be immediately apparent to someone not used to looking at loom set ups just where the error is. I didn't notice it until a while afterwards, in spite of thinking I was looking carefully and checking as I went along. When I realised I'd made a mistake I moved the loom a bit in order to get it in a postion where I have better light, and can see better! The next photo has an arrow to indicate the error, in case you missed it too.

By the time I spotted this I had tied bunches of warp threads to the apron rod. I had to untie and shift every pair of threads one dent sideways until the error was gone.

Something I have been finding as I set up the loom was this warp is that it is very helpful having different coloured threads. It does make it easier to spot if threads are twisted or crossed out of place. I hope you will agree, when I get around to posting the photos of the sampler I'm now weaving, that they look good in the cloth too. I'm enjoying weaving on this warp.

Sunday 16 September 2007

Tea-break from loom set up - and let's talk knitting.

I've been working on my loom setup this morning. The warp is tied on to the apron rod and now the tension in the thread groups needs adjusting. I also need to adjust the treadle ties to get a good shed. I've made a start, but this job is made harder by the new cloth aprons on my loom. These aprons prevent me reaching the lams from the front of the loom once I've got a warp on. Access from the back of the loom involves something that's a bit like gymnastics and a bit like finding the last piece of the jigsaw is slightly too big to fit the gap (!) as I have to swing myself through a gap at the side of the loom frame that's 17 inches high and have a 12 inch deep space to sit between the back of the loom and the lams. I understand that the other Toika looms have more space, but my Norjaana is sold as compact for people lacking space, that suits me, as I'm (fortunately) a compact sized person myself.

Photos of my progress with this weaving project will follow, I've taken a few but have to borrow a computer at the local library to get them posted into this blog (software compatibility problems).

Now, here are photos of something quite different. I'm learning to knit as well. I'm very proud of the jumper you see in this next photo, as this is my second attempt. The first time I had this much jumper knitted, it turned out to be rather misshapen, due to poor (erratic!) tension control. I sadly undid the whole thing and started again. The first time I'd rushed along happily, re-knitting has been slow and patient.

The wool used is Twilleys Freedom Spirit, shade 505.

The pattern is my own design, with assistance from Knitting in the Old Way: Designs and Techniques from Ethnic Sweaters byPriscilla A. Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson, pub. Nomad Press, 2004, ISBN 1-800-462-6420 and, because this book alone wasn't enough to get me to understand pattern design, I have also used a really excellent book I found recommended by The Knitting History Forum, Knitting Your own designs for a perfect fit by Montse Stanley, pub. David and Charles, 1982, ISBN 0-7153-8227-6. This book is out of print, but I found a copy by using abebooks. Montse is very through in explaining choice of style, construction technique and pattern drawing using specially proportioned graph paper. There's a nice chapter too on "amending and altering", as she understands we don't all get everything right everytime! I've been knitting on a Addi circular needle, 3mm size and 60cm long. This is smaller than recommended for the wool, but I needed this size for the correct tension because of holding the yarn in my left hand "continental" style which produces looser stitches.

I've paused this knit project temporarily, while working on the sleeve design. As I'm lost without a bit of knitting to keep my hands busy when I relax at the end of the day, I've started another pair of socks. I'm using an Opal sock yarn and knitting on a set of 5 needles, 2.5mm. In this picture you can see how I've started with a daimond for the sock toe, and have picked up stitches on all four sides to knit the foot section.

I've knitted about a dozen pairs of socks now, since getting started when the Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers ran a sock knitting workshop last year. IThe diamond / square toe comes from Lucy Neatby in Cool Socks Warm Feet (Tradewind Knitwear Desings, ISBN 0-9733940-0-05), and I use a "short row" heel technique, described in Lucy's book but I believe this was popularised by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. My feet are UK size 4 ( 37 Eur.) and I find a good fit for me is 56 stitches round (13 on each needle). I start knitting the toe when the foot length is the same as the distance from my toe to heel bone.

Here's one last photo to show a handknitted sock in everyday wear - and one of the boots I wear most days, being a country dweller. A very comfy combination!

Thursday 13 September 2007

Treadle tie-up and threading.

Here's evidence of some progress. I've tied up the treadles of my countermarche loom, a Toika Norjanna, for a waffle pattern on p.46 of The Best of Weavers - Fabrics that go Bump (ed. Madelyn van de Hoogt, pub. XRX 2002, ISBN 1-893762-11-4). There are two related weaves on the same page that I shall also try, as all have the same 8-shaft straight threading.

I have texsolv cords for my loom tie-up, and am posting here a photo of the treadle tie-up. It took me a few months to develop this system, which has saved a great deal of time. The first time I tied up the treadles it took several hours - now I can do it in about 1/2 hour.

The features to note here are, firstly, for every treadle hole that needs tying to a lamm there is a square anchor peg holding the texsolv cord under the treadle, and a square anchor peg is used on top of the lamm to attach the cord.

Second, every texsolv cord is of ample length to thread through the top lam if need be. When I bought this loom, it had a set of short cords and a set of long cords that needed swapping around. Changing to long cords all over means I do not have to reach under the treadles to remove and reattach cords.

It is a feature of the countermarche loom system that every treadle is tied to every shaft - either via the lower lamm which raises the shaft, or via the upper lamm which will lower the shaft.

I'm not going to explain here the different handloom operation systems, but, basically a countermarche loom creates a larger shed for the shuttle by either raising or lowering every shaft - hence every heddle and every warp thread carried by a heddle. Best book on different loom types: Eric Broudy,
The Book of Looms: A History of the Handloom from Ancient Times to the Present, (ISBN: 0289708737). Some learning to weave books are also helpful, and I understand (haven't seen a copy) that Peggy Ostercamp's book Warping Your Loom and Tying on New Warps (web site ) has a good explanation of loom types).

This clever little gadget was, in its former existence, part of a d string on a guitar. In it's current handy loop form it is an excellent tool for threading the texsolv cord through lamms and treadles, as shown below.

The next photo is of the warp threads that I wound on to the loom the other day. Every thread (alternately) runs under or over the two lease rods, crossing over in between the rods. These lease rods are held in position by a couple of very useful large metal rings, they are sold in hardware shops, I think for carrying very large bunches of keys. This is an idea from another weaver, Leigh which she shared in her blog (see here for photo) earlier this year. I find this an excellent method of supporting the lease rods (plus cords tying the rings and rods to the loom frame) as, previously, when I used only linen ties, the sticks would swing around a bit and getting hold of the right thread was therefore harder to do.

The "cross" over in the threads for these lease rods is created at the stage of unreeling the thread from and measuring the appropriate length of yarn out on a warp board.

In this photo you see my hand (having reached over the loom shafts) selecting the first thread to thread through a heddle on a loom shaft. I select every thread carefully like this, having learnt the hard way that getting the threads out of order or twisted at this stage causes problems :( later.

Every single thread that will be part of the weave pattern is pulled through a heddle on a loom shaft. If you're thinking - not every thread then - you're right. Two threads on each edge of the warp are to be used as a "floating selvedge" and do not form part of the pattern weaving.

The next photo shows the first eight heddles threaded, behind (to the right) are further groups of threads sitting in half-inch groups (of 12 threads, I will weave at 24 warp ends per inch (epi)). Running over the shafts, to the right again, are four threads that remain of the first group of twelve. You can't see them, but those lease rods are between the raddle and the back of the loom.

My final picture here shows another careful precaution - each repeat group threaded through the heddles (here eight threads, threaded through heddles on shafts 8 - 1) is tied in a slip knot. I check the group is all in correct order and through the correct heddle, with no twists or crossovers, before I tie that knot.

This system helped me spot an error shortly after taking that photo. I counted the threads in a group and found there were 7, not 8. I looked again and found I had missed out one heddle. It saves a lot of time to put this sort of error right at the earliest possible moment! Yep, that's another lesson I learnt the long way!!

Monday 10 September 2007

Weaving - the warp on hold.

I'm feeling a bit frustrated, weaving-wise, the sample warp is wound on the back beam and has sat there most of a week. I had other things to do this weekend, my next good chunk of time for making progress will be Thursday morning. The next task is to tie-up treadles, then thread heddles, sley the read, tie the warp to the front apron. Quite a few hours work!

So, in the meantime, here's a photo of the warp "on hold". To stop the threads slipping and tension being lost, I have run a lath along the top of the back beam. Under the lath, to create the friction needed to grasp the threads so they don't slip, there is a thick piece of linen thread. You can see the tail end of the thread emerge from under the lath at the top left of this picture. The lath is held tight with a solid pair of g-clamps. I keep finding more uses for these clamps, they are invaluable weaving tools!


I used the traditional dye Logwood for the first time recently. Historically this dye was very important, especially as a source of navy blue (obtained with potassium bichrome mordant) from 1800 onwards, but I find when I talk to people who aren't dyers that while they have heard of woad, indigo and madder, this and many other natural dyes have slipped out of general knowledge. Jill Goodwin in A Dyers Manual says Logwood, from the south american native tree Haematoxylon campecianum was known in England from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, but its use was prohibited by law until 1661, as dyers needed to learn to how use mordants to make this dye lasting. The chips of logwood sold as dyestuff come from the heartwood of the tree, which is cut down when about 10 years old. Rita Adrosko in Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing and Rita Buchanan in A Dyers Garden both recommend soaking the logwood chips for at least a few days as fermentation that occurs when the logwood is soaked leads to better results. Rita Buchanan says the choice of mordant is important because logwood does not last long when alum or tannins are used, and best results are obtained when using chrome or iron.

I wish I'd read these books before I did this work with logwood, as I've used only alum mordant and also hadn't seen that Jill Goodwin recommends the dyer to stop heating the dyebath when the wool is added for best, clearest colour.

Here are the results of my experiment, the wool my usual superwashed merino, the mordant my usual pre-mordant of 10% alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) and 8% cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate). Progressively lighter shades were obtained from the same dyebath, until I ran out of wool.

The next photo shows how one of those magical dyebath transformations has occured - see how the colour of the dyebath the wool went into, and the first colour shown by the wool in the dyebath, was most definitely orange.

Thursday 6 September 2007

Dyes from Dock seed heads

Just a quick photo here to show the colours I obtained from the pre-soaked seed heads of the broad leaf dock plant, Rumex obtusifolius. For several weeks I kept checking the plants (which grow wild in our garden) to see when the seeds would be ready. I was keen to try using the seed heads after reading in Su Grierson's book "The Colour Cauldron" (self published, 1979 reprint, now out of print) that a red dye could be obtained if the seed heads were given regular heating over a few days. She obtained apricot / caramel shades and first and thought this red was coming through because of decomposition of the dyestuff. I think I should have used more plant material to get a stronger colour.

I didn't get to the brick red she described, but in the sample on the left of this picture you can see a more pink/red tone coming through. This wool sample was dyed three days after the others, with approx 3 hours heating of the dye bath in total before dyeing. Next springtime I shall try again, as I am told that the young spring leaves also give reds.

The samples to the right are, far right, with after mordant tin (stannous chloride), centre with after mordant iron (ferrous sulphate) and then both the samples on the left are only treated, as all this wool was, my usual pre-mordant of 10% alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) and 8% cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate). The wool is superwashed merino, again.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Thoughts on learning to weave.

This evening I got back to the three coloured warp I prepared the other day, today's task being to put it on the loom. I threaded the back apron rod through the loops at the end of the warp, and tied the apron rod to the apron. I passed the chained warp forward to the front of the loom and set my half-inch groups of threads into the raddle. I positioned my loom bench in front of the loom, drew the groups of threads over it and tied on weights (old 1 litre milk cartons, half filled with water. The bottles are not full so I have a good tension on the threads, but not tight.

Then I got round to the back of the loom to resolve a problem I have ignored before. I have previously woven on warps that were not well spaced on the back apron, therefore not well spaced running over the back beam. I have also had threads crossing between the lease sticks and the back beam.

Today I decided that I needed to make sure these things were put right. I have learnt the hard way that extra time spent in setting the loom up well is never wasted. The value of a careful and patient approach to weaving has been brought home for me by reading more about some of the primitive looms that are still used in many parts of the world to create the most complex and beautiful cloths (one source of information on this that I would highly recommend is Ann Hecht's book The Art of the Loom, published 1989, British Museum, ISBN 0-7141-1592-4).

I found a tapestry beater some help in gently combing the threads to separate and spread them between the lease sticks and the apron rod. Further work was needed with my fingers to check the line of the threads and swap them around where one thread was looped across another. I got to the stage where I was satisfied and stood back to think. I admired the groups of twelve threads running through each of the half inch gaps in the raddle, ready for working at 24 epi (ends per inch). That's when I realised something was missing. Actually, a couple of things - a pair of threads at each side to use as floating selvedges. Fortunately at this stage it isn't difficult to add threads to each side of the warp.

I remembered then a suggestion I made recently to another beginner. Time I put it into action for myself. It's time I was in the habit of using a checklist for every weaving project.

That light-fast test again...

At last I have a photo for you of the light-fast test on the Shetland wool yarns dyed with natural dyes (see my entry of August 19th).

Further discussions in the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers helped to establish that one reason these yarns are so faded is probably that when I dyed the yarn it didn't take up the dye as well as it might, due to the amount of grease remaining in the wool. I bought the wool in washed and combed state, but another time shall give it an extra wash with a wool detergent before dyeing. I think a telling indicator of this problem is the colour of the madder dyed yarn on the left side of the card. When I dyed superwashed merino wool with madder I obtained a much stronger shade of red.

Ah, must point out here, the left hand side of the card as shown below (up to where I have drawn a line) had been covered over to stop sunlight getting to the yarn. The right hand side was exposed to full sunlight, and the card was taped to a window that can get direct sun (when it's not wet and cloudy) for two months. For this photograph I have tucked a piece of white paper between the yarns and the card because the piece of cardboard was badly sun damaged and turned yellow.

If you are slightly confused by my labels then please note that there are three strands of yarn dyed with weld and two dyed with onion skins, one strand for each of the other dyes.

Saturday 1 September 2007

Dyeing with Goldenrod

Here in a suitably yellow bucket are Goldenrod stems, leaves and flowers, picked from the garden, ready to prepare a dye bath.

I planted Goldenrod plants in my garden last year. I was very kindly sent an envelope full of roots last springtime by an Online Guild friend, Mary Carbert.

Mary grows many plants for use in dyeing, and is the daughter of an expert, Jill Goodwin, whose wonderful book "A Dyers Manual" is based on many years of practical experience. Mary is the publisher of the current edition of the book. Click on the title here for a link to a website to learn more about "A Dyers Manual" and its author. This is one of those books I treasure for being good to read, as well as being full of useful information. Just one thing I like about it is long list of common dye plants, giving English and Latin names, and listing the different colours that can be obtained with different mordants. It's a good quality edition, printed on very good paper and well bound, which I also think is important as this is a book that I pick up to read or for reference time and time again.

This next photo shows results from the dyeing with Goldenrod. From the right, the pale yellow was obtained on superwashed merino wool with just my usual pre-mordant of 10% alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) and 8% cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate). The bright yellow appeared when I added an after mordant of a pinch of tin (stannous chloride) and the green shades on the left came from an after-mordant of iron (ferrous sulphate)

The skeins of green (handspun) yarn you see on the left are shown again in the next photograph. It was Mary who prompted this, she said she had had lovely greens on grey wool. The two yarns on the left are grey Cheviot sheep, and on the right, light grey Suffolk. I am delighted with these green yarns, I think I will use them to knit a stripy beanie hat.