Friday 30 January 2009

Here she is... the new loom!

Are you ready? Here are the boxes:
part unwrapped:
and after a couple of hours unwrapping and putting bits together... it's a Leclerc Voyageur, 24" and 8 shafts. Note it was very well wrapped indeed - many thanks to Frank Herring & Sons of Dorset, they were very helpful in answering questions, delivery was prompt and their packing left nothing to chance. Of course I was rather tempted to buy the loom that has my name, the Leclerc "Dorothy"! But I wanted a folding loom for convenience of storing and occasional travel, and I like the shaft operation levers being in the middle (the Dorothy loom has them on the right hand side). See how she folds:
The literature says you can do this with the warp on, I haven't tried that yet. Of course as soon as I have a warp on I shall! This loom took a lot of choosing, and I am very grateful to friends in the Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers who helped very much by telling me about their table looms and likes / dislikes. It's not easy to have to buy a loom without being able to see it. It did reassure me to discover that everyone with a modern folding table loom seems to be very happy with their loom. The options in the U.K. for new folding table looms are only Leclerc, Ashford and Louet (anything else would be a special import). If I'd wanted something more portable and just for samples I'd have gone for the Louet W30 which is only 12" / 30 cm wide but very nicely made and weighs a mere 12 lbs (5.5 kg) and a bargain at £250. Several owners of this loom got in touch to tell me how they love it. I'm sure the 40cm Louet Jane is also very good, but it's a bit bigger and heavier and costs significantly more, and the smallest Leclerc Voyageur (9 1/2") is also beautiful but 16lb in weight and costs nearly twice the price of the W30. If I'd not been interested in porting it about I'd have chosen one of the small folding 8 shaft looms, there's a Harris countermarch, or two jack looms - the Schacht Wolf pup or Leclerc Compact. I even gave some thought to one of the compact computer dobby looms, but they are not quite compact enough for me to find the space easily and I'm not sure I want a computerised loom. I get fed up with computers, they have dominated my working life. I wasn't sure about whether to get my loom with texsolv heddles or wire. I'm used to texsolv on my floor loom, so was biased towards the familar, but then I had a helpful chat to David Herring who said that the wire heddles move more easily along the shafts. I chose wire and I'm delighted. I'm including the next photo because I wanted to show the clever way the shafts are held in place by the heddle bars and they slide out of the bottom of the loom when you need to remove or add heddles to the shafts. The loom is lying on its side for this photo and you can see the little round feet it stands on.
I think I should add here that the loom comes with 600 heddles and I ordered an extra 300 in case I want to weave fine cotton or silk. I also ordered the second warp and back beam and a couple of extra shuttles.

I can't give you a full review of these shuttles yet. One came with the loom, and I ordered two extra. They are special shallow shuttles as the Voyageur has a small shed. The finish on them is the most beautiful and smooth of any of my shuttles, and with the curved ends they are good to hold. They are closed at the bottom so a reasonable weight and balance.

Monday 26 January 2009

Plain weaves with quality threads

It's a coincidence that there's been a few significant changes in my life at the start of 2009. Mostly not related to my fibre / weaving interests, so I'll just mention in passing that the start of a new working hours and different work locations last week kept me from writing about the many things I'm thinking about and working on in my 'spare' time.

So, where shall I start? Not with the new loom. I'll just say for those of you who haven't heard yet I have a new (extra) weaving loom and am very pleased with it. More on that another time when I can get my photos uploaded.

I was wondering where to start writing about the different subjects of different books I've been reading, I was thinking that I'd been following several lines of investigation at once, then I looked at the pile of books again and they re-arranged themselves in my mind. I see the connection, it's in my title, plain weaves and interesting, quality yarns.

I'm interested in the history of handweaving and different national traditions.

I have found that broadly speaking these differences in the 20th century handweaving traditions I have been reading about:
- the US tends to favour jack looms, overshot, plain yarns and at times very complex weave patterns,
- from Scandinavia I see countermarch or counterbalance looms, more high tension warps such as linen and the distinctive weaves such as rep,
- in the UK I have found more tradition of balanced plain and twill weaves, wool yarns and tweeds, and then fancy yarns in these weaves (see my earlier post about Bernat Klein).
Taking the UK, I read some time ago Theo Moorman's autobiography Weaving as an Art Form, a personal statement, published Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1975, and last year I added to my understanding of her life and work with Theo Moorman 1907-1990: her life and work as an artist weaver, edited by Hilary Diaper, published University Gallery Leeds 1992, ISBN 1 874331 01 4 (hardback) and 1 874331 002 2 (softback). Theo Moorman worked largely by creating designs in plain weave cloth with inlaid yarns.

I rediscovered Theo Moorman once more in Fine-Art Weaving, by Irene Waller, published by Batsford, 1979, along with other weavers of the late 20th C. The work of some of the others looks very dated and "70s" to me (I do know this is currently fashionable, but I recall the 1970s). A few stand the test of time very well - such as the amazing Peter Collingwood. In the introduction, the background of early 20th C British weavers is given, and I found a tantalizing, but short biography of Ethel Mairet (1872-1952).

Nigel, a fan of Ethel Mairet, directed me to A Weaver's Life: Ethel Mairet 1872-1952, Margot Coatts, published by the Crafts Council, 1983, ISBN 0 903798 70 0. Here I found links in attitude to cloth design that reminded me of Bernat Klein - simple weave (she used plain weave, he used simple twills) and an interest in yarn. I quote Margot Coatts (p.82)
"Ethel Mairet's approach to weaving was that it should be an intuitive and expressive response to the colour and texture of the yarn",
and Margot herself (p.104) quotes the representative of Greg's yarn spinning mill, who later created yarns for Ethel, saying that he:
..."very soon realised she was not a weaver, not a designer, but a yarn enthusiast - not just for the look of a yarn but also in the feel".
Inspired by weavers she had met in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Ethel Mairet started her weaving workshop using handspun yarns. Later Greg's of Stockport created characterful yarn for her such as a fine cotton snarl yarn which she coloured with natural dyes.

Now to move into a totally different part of the world, but more handspun yarns used by handweavers on simple looms to create the most beautiful cloth.

Last autumn I very much enjoyed seeing Kente cloth in the permanent exhibition at Bankfield Museum, Halifax. About the same time Syne Mitchell wrote about Kente cloth in Weavezine, Fall 2008, she referenced "African Textiles" by John Picton and John Mack. I now have two, different editions of this book. =Sigh=

I borrowed from the local library (by request, for 80p) the second edition, which I highly recommend:
African Textiles, John Picton and John Mack, published 1989 by The Trustees of the British Museum, ISBN 0-7141-1595-9. Discovering it to be an invaluable reference, I ordered a book I found on, only to discover that I had ordered the first edition, published in 1979. The second edition has much more material, both writing and photos. So, I found a second edition and ordered that too. It's getting late and if I start telling you how much I like this book I'll be still tapping the keys into early tommorrow a.m., best leave that for now. However, there goes my book buying budget for up to March. Yep, this year I have set myself a budget with monthly amounts and aim to spend less on books -
this is to compensate for buying The New Loom - I'll tell you about that someday soon, with photos!!

Monday 12 January 2009


In writing my bibliography I was startled to discover I had not written about a very, very good book that I discovered last year on silk. I did write on "Silk: what every weaver should know", with details of other books, so I must have purchased this particular book after I'd published that entry. I also wrote last May on the local history of silk spinning and weaving.

I was hunting high and low for information about silk as I wanted to know all about silk production so I could understand the yarns available, and also because I like to see the things in my life as part of a bigger picture. A yarn has more meaning if I know and understand: where does it start and where will it end?

Yes, I am turning philosophical now - I think it is important to know because we all make decisions that effect other people, and the sequence - what we acquire, how we use it, where it goes when we are finished - is a process that contributes to shape the world we live in.

I was also motivated by having bought some yarn of a quality that I thought was rather poor for expensive silk. More exploration showed I had bought relatively cheap, maybe this was part of the problem. It was full of knots and all wispy at the edges. I queried with the seller whether it really was thrown silk, as claimed, they told me they had it checked by an expert and and that it was (but there was no written report, so I don't know quite what the expert said)... and I thought thrown silk was made from long continuous filament and shouldn't have wispy ends protruding. So I hunted high and low on the internet to learn more.

This book which I found is about the big picture, it is:
Global Silk Industry: A complete source book, by Rajat K Datta and Mahesh Nanavaty, published by Universal Publishers, USA, 2005, ISBN 1-58112-493.
I found and bought it via, it was inexpensive - at a time when the dollar-pound exchange rate was more favourable!

The authors are well qualified. Rajat K Datta is a retired director of International and National Sericulture Research Institutes in India (author of 300 scientific and technical papers) and Mahesh Nanavaty has worked for over 30 years in the silk industry, in the USA and India. The foreword is written by Xavier Gavyn Lavergne, as Secretary General of the International Silk Association.

As regards the content of the book, the preface has this neat summary
"Here are gathered, indeed, the main information and anaylsis regarding the history of production and trade of this exceptional fiber, from the origins of silk to the 21st century, covering the important changes in the silk scenario notably in the course of the 20th centruy, which explain today's situation and enlighten the future."

So we have history, we have a chapter looking at silk in relation to other fibres, an overview of the global silk industry today, and several chapters on silk production. There are reports on current and developing technology, and on the uses and market / marketing of silk.

However, this is not a heavyweight textbook, it is a paperback, 352 pages plus appendices and I found it a good read. Not only that, it filled in many gaps for me, I'm happier now that I understand how to find the quality of silk, and type of yarns, I want to buy, and where my use of silk fits in to the big picture.