Tuesday 27 November 2007

Creating pleats in the weave.

Weaving fascinates me: the taking of threads and making cloth out of them. I always found there was something magical about knitting, but weaving is still more amazing to me because it is (usually) a faster process and because of the great range of different cloths that can be produced with simple technology.

Most of the cloth woven today uses simplest weave structures. Plain weave, where the individual threads go alternately over and under each other is the simplest technique of all, and the most common used weave structure of all. It's the weave of your cotton sheets and handkerchiefs, of plain shirting and calico fabrics, but also can be used for the silk of dresses and scarves.

What's the next most common? That would be twill of one sort or another. In this weave, a thread goes over or under more two or more threads at a time. To look at, you soon see that where plain weave makes vertical and horizontal lines, twill has diagonal lines. It can make a very dense and hard wearing cloth - twill is the weave of denim jeans - and it can be more flexible than plain weave so it's good for fabrics that need some give, such as suitings (i.e. a jacket needs a bit of give at the elbow) or need to drape well, such as a blanket or shawl.

But although plain weave and simple twills account for over 90% of all woven cloth, there are several other more complex possibilties. Some are based on mixes and variations of plain weave and twill. Others are more distantly related.

This is taking me a bit off track - I was going to explain that my pleats were woven using a twill weave, where the thread goes either over 3 under 1, or under 3 and over 1. But the result is not a normal twill. There are stripes of 3-over, 1-under alternating with stripes of the 3-under, 1-over. This creates alternate tensions in the cloth. When I wove my first sample in an attempt to produce pleats, I used the same thread in warp and weft, and a balanced sett (i.e. same density of threads in warp and weft per inch).

The resulting sample, shown below, is gently undulating. Not really pleated. I like it, it has a softer feel because of the folds, and looks interesting. But I'd seen pictures of cloth with deep folds, and that's what I was aiming for.

(This sample was woven in12/2 mercerised cotton, and the sett was 24 epi.)

So, I got out my reference book "Fabrics that Go Bump", one of the "Best of Weaver's" (magazine) series from XRX Books, edited by Madelyn van der Hoogt, pub. 2002, ISBN 1-893762-11-4, and read it carefully.

Then, I re-threaded the loom. The warp thread density was increased to 36 epi. I looked all around to find a really fine thread to use in the weft. I don't have any really fine weaving yarns, but I do have a lot of pure cotton sewing thread, 50/2, in many different colours that I'd bought for my patchwork sewing. I gave this a try, and it worked. See below, in the foreground, here we have pleats!

And now, to emphasise the difference, my last photo today shows the two samples (woven on the same warp threads at different sett) side by side:

Not the neatest or most proficient weaving, I've a lot of work still to do on basic skills such as beating the weft in evenly and keeping straight selvedges, but I felt a great sense of achievement when my fabric settled in to pleats as I took it off the loom.

Then, I was able to build on this success, as following a message posted to the Online Guild of Weavers, Dyers and Spinners, I was able to share the discovery of how pleats work with another weaver, who tried the technique in her own work and wove a pleated silk scarf. She used two different types of silk in the warp, 30/2 silk with a 12 singles, sett at 24epi, and weft of "an incredibly fine silk" she'd been given and not expected to find a use for (by someone who'd been weaving silk ties).

And so, I thought I'd share this technique with you too, and while I get on with improving my basic skills, maybe you will pick up on this and take it somewhere in your own work?

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Inkle bands.

I was fascinated by inkle bands after seeing this type of weaving demonstrated by Rowena Hart at an "Ashford Day" hosted by the The Threshing Barn a couple of years ago.

The inkle loom had to wait while I pursued other projects, but I finally bought one last year with money I was given for my birthday. It came as a flat packed kit in a box.

The story of putting it together is a long one... I was disappointed with my first attempt and my boyfriend was horrified that I'd not followed basic woodworking principles and had ended up with not all the pegs in properly and some a bit wonky - and everything stuck tight by fast drying glue. My birthday fun was quite spoiled. To deal with the pain of disappointment and embarassment, I e-mailed Ashford with suggested amendments to their assembly instructions and was astounded to be not only thanked for my suggestions but offered a replacement loom. I must say here I think Ashford are a lovely company, they have some really super products, a complete range of all you need to prepare fibre, dye it, spin and weave, plus instruction books, and have unmatched customer support. It is wonderful that you can buy parts to keep spinning wheels of 25 years or more in good running order, and still get accessories to fit... but I digress.

The first loom I had wove one band on, then I gave it away and it went to a very good home where it is well used. Inkle loom no. 2 took a long time to put together because I had to prove my woodwork skills were some good after all. This time I matched up the pegs to the holes, sanding them carefully for a good fit. I cut a tiny channel in the side of the pegs (using a v-shaped chisel I have for woodblock carving) where they were to go into the holes to allow air to escape from the bottom of the hole as the peg was pushed in. This meant that all the pegs went into the holes beautifully and to the full depth. It was finished with several coats of danish oil, and sanded down in between coats for a really smooth finish. I now have a really beautiful inkle loom.

But I wanted to be an inkle weaver, not a woodworker! I've just got around to weaving a few simple bands now. I took the last few foot of thrums (loom waste) from the last project on my floor loom and decided to put them to good use. This thread is a 12/2 mercerised cotton. It occured to me I didn't need to do anything fancy, as long as I wove the cotton into narrow bands they would be useful for ties for something. I chose a much thicker (dk knitting cotton) thread for weft. I'm rather pleased with the results, although more practice is required to get even weaving with neat edges.

I found the large belt shuttle supplied a bit large and awkward to use as both shuttle and beater, so I changed to using a thick piece of card as shuttle and a lolly stick (popsicle stick?) as a beater. See photo below, how much smaller my bit of card is, I find it much easier to hold:

I used to have a small belt shuttle that I'd bought from Fibrecrafts which was a better size, but this shuttle I gave away with inkle loom no. 1.

I've got a few books about inkle weaving, and there's also some excellent resources on the internet. Here are a some I'd recommend:
Heather's pages on inkle weaving.
Kaz's version of a decorative band and Sara Lamb's original piece

Clearly all kinds of fancy work and pick up patterns are possible. But I'm really happy for now with my plain bands.

Thursday 8 November 2007

From handspun merino yarn to stripey socks.

I haven't written much about spinning yet. I was just thinking this the other day, wondering where to start on the subject,and then I looked at the socks I was wearing. See the above photo. Most of the socks I've knitted are in commercial sock yarn, but then the Online Guild had a sock knitting workshop. I wanted to use my own handspun for the workshop, and so spun some wool and knitted the photographed socks as a trial. When it came to the workshop, I'd used all the yarn, so I knitted my toe-up socks in Opal sock yarn instead.

I knitted these socks from the pattern "Simply Splendid" given by Lucy Neatby in her book "Cool Socks Warm Feet". They are a top down knit,using the heel style she calls "common heel" and a "common wedge toe". I think this was about my third pair of socks, and considering that they turned out well and have worn well.

The yarn is spun from dyed merino tops purchased from Wingham Wool Works. I first learnt to spin with tuition from Ruth Gough at Wingham Wools. While I was having my beginner lesson, two other spinners where there learning fancy techniques. When I was thinking about spinning a multi-colour sock yarn, I remembered Ruth had demonstrated spinning wonderful multicolour blends where different coloured wools were blended by spiking handfuls of different coloured merino fibre on a hackle, then pulling the fibre off the hackle through a diz (she used a small washer, but recommended that a button could also be used). The colour choice was based on picking some colours that went together and then one colour that was totally different.

I was thinking about Ruth's advice on colours, and selected for my socks a light blue, a mid-blue, a light blue-green, and a darker blue-green, with a bright pink. As I didn't have a hackle, or combs, I sat with small handfuls of different colours on my knee and kept changing colour, no particular theme or rhythm, just whatever I felt like next. I spun a couple of bobbins of singles yarn like this, and then plied them together. Knitting it was very exciting - I had no idea how the colours would work in the knitted fabric. As it happens, I'm very pleased with the resulting soft stripes. The socks are warm and soft, and they are wearing well, although the yarn has pilled a bit.

As you see, I have spun some more of this yarn, and it's been sitting around for a while now. Maybe it's time for another pair of socks...

Sunday 4 November 2007

Little treasures

As I'm sure many of you have realised, I love books, and to some extent I collect them (at least, they seem to collect all around me). That's not collect in the sense of investing money, it's collect in the sense of gathering knowledge and building a reference library.

This means that every time I find a really good book, I turn to the back and see if there's a bibliography, and look to see what titles I recognise.

Again and again in the bibligraphies of books on natural dyeing, I saw the words "Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record of Plants and Gardens". There were two different titles:

Natural Plant Dyeing, A Handbook, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record Plants & Gardens Vol. 29, No.2, 1973


Dye Plants and Dyeing - a handbook, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record Plants & Gardens Vol. 20, No.3, 1964.

Another title that came up from time to time was:

Journal of the Chicago Horticultural Society, Vol. III, no.1, Winter 1976.

To give you an idea of how influential these titles are, at least one of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden titles is cited in all these works (brief book details):
Anne Milner, The Ashford Book of Dyeing,
Jill Goodwin, A Dyer's Manual,
Su Grierson, The Colour Cauldron,
Jean Carmen, Dyemaking with Eucalypts,
Rita Buchanan, A Dyer's Garden,
J N Liles, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing,
John & Margaret Canon, Dye Plants and Dyeing,
Jenny Balfour Paul, Indigo
Gwen Fereday, Natural Dyes
Dominique Cardon, Le Monde des teintures naturelles.

I'm sure I'll get around to telling you more about some of these other books in due course, however, the particular reason for writing about my little treasures is to highlight their value and say these publications need looking taking care of.

Why do I say this? Because in spite of their value, and in spite of my experience, determination, and tenacity in hunting down copies of second hand books, they were very, very hard to find.

And when I found the first two, they were on the shelf of a second hand book shop I was visitng because of a different title that I'd seen advertised on the internet. These little treasures had not only not been recognised as valuable enough to advertise, they were tucked away on the shelf and priced at a mere £1.50 each. Now, I love a bargain, and I was absolutely delighted not only to find these booklets but also to buy them cheap. My other purchase turned up after a year of so of looking, on the Loom Exchange website, again, inexpensive. But these bargains set alarm bells ringing in my head. The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens titles were special reprints, and reprinted several times over. So where have they all gone?

They are volumes, what we in Europe describe as A5 size, stapled (not bound) and as journals, they are slightly more substantial than a magazine. So how many of these volumes have been over looked, discarded as small and worthless, or just got worn out and been thrown away?

It is about time I told you why these publications are of such interest. The Journal of the Chicago Horticultural Society, Vol.III no.1, is a small handbook on growing dye plants and using natural dyes. It is slightly out of date, in that the amount of mordant to volume of fibre used by dyers nowadays is generally rather less than described. Apart from that, and not having colour pictures, it is an excellent instruction book, concise and easy to follow, with much information laid out in easy to read charts and tables.

Both the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens publications are in more magazine type format. They have an introduction followed by a number of different articles relating to the title.

To let them speak for themselves, the introduction of the 1964 volume says "This handbook on natural plant dyes and how to use them has many objectives, not the least of which is to help in the revival of an ancient craft..." that sets the scene for you. With regard to the contributions: "Guest Editor Schetky, her invited authors and members of our Editorial Committee have pooled their ideas, knowledge and resources to bring this hundred-page book into being. Warm responses to inquiries in other countries have given us a feeling of great friendship for people in many parts of the world... Their dyeing formulas, including how-to-do it recipes from 18 different countries, are given here...". The 1974 volume introduction tells us "interest in dyeing with natural plant materials has grown sharply since 1964....letters, literally hundreds of them from the United States and other lands, have prompted this companion edition."

The 14 articles in the first volume include: "Tannins and Dyes from Plant Galls", "Dyes of Ancient Usage", "Family Dyeing in Colonial New England", "Notes on Aztec Dye Plants", "Dye Plants in a Scottish Garden". The 1973 volume has 28 contributions including articles on madder, indigo, pokeweed, eucalypts, "A Practical Approach to the Use of Lichens", "The Sleepy Hollow Restoration Shawls", "Coreopsis for reds on cotton and wool", "Plant Dyeing in new Zealand", "Southwest Navjo Dyes". There is so much here, I can't re-publish it all for you. it is a wealth of information, short articles written by writers who knew their subject well. There is history, chemistry, botany, dyeing technique, different traditions from around the world.

If you have, or ever come across, one of these titles, please look after it.