Tuesday 28 April 2009

Chocolate scarf

At the weekend I wove the next of my sequence of scarves on a Noro Kureyon Sock yarn warp. I am very, very pleased with the result. The weft yarn is Araucania Yarn, hand dyed, from Chile. I took the photo of the scarf in progress so you can see the colours in the warp which are cool shades of brown and grey and how the warm brown shades in the weft set it off. The weave pattern is a 4 shaft undulating twill from this book: However, the inspiration came from the undulating twills in the Janet Phillip's Sample Blanket which I wove last year. This blanket is not only a wonderful reference to look at when I am wondering what weave structure to use, but was also a tremendous learning experience as I discovered many new weave patterns. Here's the relevant section of the blanket: And here is my new scarf, off the loom and after washing vigourously in hot soapy water: The feel and drape of this weave is everything I hoped for, and I love the wavy lines. My selvedges are significant improved from the previous scarf, this I am sure is because I am getting used to winding on the warp carefully. I advanced the warp just one inch at a time, and I was only weaving a quarter - half inch before moving the stretcher. Last week I bought two more combinations of yarn because I don't want to stop weaving scarves just yet! One of my other on-going projects at the moment is spinning my way through a couple of coloured Ryeland fleece. Here's a bobbin full on the lazy kate of my Timbertops Leicester: Before spinning full bobbins I prepared a small skein to test out the behaviour of the yarn. I knitted swatches on three different needle sizes to see how it looks. This is the pillow slip full of wool yet to be spun: Isn't it pretty? The fleeces were supplied by Sandie Davison of Yorkshire Woollybacks. 

Sunday 19 April 2009

Linen yarns

The message has been passed around weavers in the UK that a company called GTM Sales Ltd. in Stalybridge had bought up the end of stock from an Irish firm, William Ross, which closed recently.

A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed an afternoon out, I drove over to Stalybridge (not far from my home) and found their office on the ground floor of a wonderful old mill (note: this is not the building pictured on the web site). It's one of those superb, grand Victorian mills where you enter via a brick archway into a cobbled yard. Nowadays the mill is home to a number of small businesses, one of which is GTM Sales who have an office on one side of the yard and large storeroom on the other. If you follow the link above then you can see a rack of shelves in the storeroom. They are selling pure linen two ply yarns and two ply yarns of linen plied with yarns of other fibre.

The yarns I bought are two ply linen/linen, linen/cotton, linen/wool, enough to keep me happy weaving for a year or two I should think, unless I want more of a particular colour. The colours are lovely, see for yourself:

I had a great time choosing these and enjoyed a good chat and a cup of tea with Sandra, who has the task of marketing these yarns. Hi Sandra! Sandra's not a yarn expert, if you look at the company web site you'll see they used to refurbish spinning mill machinery, however, she's learning from her customers - and commented how friendly weavers are. She's happy to send out samples for anyone who can't go along in person. They are selling per cone (mostly weighing at least 1 kg) prices from £5-£10. (Sandra, I hope your boss is impressed by the advertising space you get for one cup of tea and a friendly chat!!)

Here I am surrounded by cones of yarn and thinking, right, what shall I weave? I have put away the mixed yarns for now, and am looking at using the two ply linens. I think all the yarns are eminently suitable for fabric to be used for clothing. They may be less suitable for upholstery or towels because the yarn is not tight twist, but I suppose that depends on the length of the flax used in spinning this yarn. I haven't pulled a thread apart to find out the length yet. I know another of Sandra's customers is a machine knitter. I also like the idea of trying these out for inkle weaving.

The next day I asked my boyfriend - the keen woodworker who often says "what shall I do with all these odd left over bits of wood" - to make a nifty gadget like the one I saw on Amelia's blog for trying out yarn sett. If you're in the U.S. you could buy one from Halcyon Yarns.

Coincidently, this is left over syacamore wood from building of the stairs you saw the yarns sitting on above! What a craftsman!

The sett tool indicates that 30 epi will be good for plain weave. I could calculate the thread twill density for twill from that, but as I was having fun I decided to weave another little sample. This time I used a couple of lollysticks tucked in the warp on the back of the sett tool to take out as the warp tightens up.

I found I'm not a very neat weaver like this, the plain weave was easier than a pattern. however, it's a useful indication of sett and appearance.

Other details - the weaving shuttle was a tapestry needle and I used the tips of 2 or 3 sock knitting needles as a comb to push the threads in tight.

Saturday 11 April 2009

A new book (!)

I have a wonderful new book that arrived in the post today, I must tell you about it...

Actually, I have a number of wonderful new books that have been turning up in the post and I've been keeping quiet about it. I have totally failed so far to keep to my planned book budget. My sister reminded me that the same thing happened last year when I said I was going to stop buying books - that time I lasted 5 weeks and then bought all the books I'd not been buying all at once.

So where does this leave the book budget? O.K. I can't afford the books - unless I re-arrange all the other budgets. I've cut my planned spending for yarn, travel and clothes. It looks like the vet bills should be less this year and I've got a statutory off road notice for my motorbike (that last one hurts, but it makes sense just now).

When I thought things through, the books really matter to me, more than most other things.

I'm restricting myself to good reference books and meanwhile making use of the local public library who charge 80p to request a book that's in the county and only £1 extra for "out of county". Out of county includes the British Library, so there's a vast range of books I have access to.

Excuses over.... the new book is:

Couture Sewing Techniques, by Claire B. Schaeffer, published by The Taunton Press, US, 2007, ISBN 978-156158-497-0.

Thanks to Peg for her review of this book last year.

I've had my eye on it ever since. I don't know if anyone else has spotted this, but Amazon (at least in the UK) are suddenly offering some big discounts on a few titles, and also free postage on all purchases. When the price of this book, delivered, showed up at £9.87 last week I did not hesitate to place my order.

Peg wrote a description of this book, I won't repeat what she has said. I'll add to it by saying why this book is important for me.

I came to textile crafts in my 30s, having avoided learning as much as I could avoid as a school kid, because I resented the fact that there was a tendency to push girls into domestic science when I wanted to learn to construct things - I wanted to learn to fix machinery and build furniture and boats - and there was virtually no opportunity for me to do any of this. In my 30s, a bit more relaxed about life in general, I discovered one Sunday when we went for a walk in the Peak District a business called Heirs and Graces which was at that time in an old chapel in the village of Longnor and run by Ann Esders who had started out making christening gowns and moved into supplying materials for patchwork sewing and teaching patchwork skills. I was bowled over by the range of gorgeous fabrics and signed up for a "block a month" sewing class on the spot.

One of the very first fabrics I bought were simple fabrics from the Kaffe Fassett range, woven with different warp and weft colours, plain and striped. I learnt more about these special fabrics just recently when I heard him talk on Weavecast (link to episode 37) It turns out they are handwoven fabrics that came about as a result of a project with Oxfam to help villagers re-establish a traditional industry after a tsunami - quite a story. Even without knowing the story, these have been my favourite fabrics ever. From first seeing them, I looked at them closely as I wondered why they were different to other fabrics; that was my first lesson about weaving and cloth construction.

I came back to sewing garments, something I'd avoided for years, via patchwork. With Ann, I learnt hand and machine stitching of complicated designs as well as applique and quilting. As I'd made my own patterns and designs for patchwork, so I went back to sewing clothes with a pattern cutting book* and a roll of brown parcel paper. The dressing gown specially designed and made for my boyfriend is so successful it's been made up 4 times now in two different wool twills, a plain weave wool and plain weave linen. Making the same pattern over again is a good way to learn about different fabrics.

* Metric Pattern Cutting, Winifred Aldrich, 3rd edition, Blackwell Science 1997, ISBN 0-632-03612-5

Now the reason why I especially like Couture Sewing is because unlike the other books I have on sewing up garments, it deals with the details and it is largely about design, cutting out, preparing to sew and hand stitching. The careful attention to small details (such as pages about button holes, handmade buttons, handstitching technique) reminds me of my patchwork sewing classes, where I learnt to be patient with the fiddly bits. I learnt to slow down, plan and prepare everything carefully and then have the pleasure of seeing how careful preparation enables you to get everything just right and produce something so good it looks like someone else made it!

Oh, and Couture Sewing also tells you how this or that fashion house finished this or that detail of their garments, so it's all in context and opens a door on a world of high fashion where designer garments are still handmade to measure for those who can afford to pay. Entrancing. Unusually for a reference book, I can see myself reading this one from cover to cover as I would a good novel.

Here are a couple of quotes from the author's introduction:
"What makes haute couture garments so special that some cost as much as luxury cars and small houses? What construction techniques are used for these garments? Are they really different from those used in home sewing ..... If so.....can home sewers duplicate them?"
"The book itself is divided into two sections. The first five chapters are designed to introduce you to the world of haute couture and familiarize you with the basic skills and essential techniques of haute couture. The last six chapters focus on the application of couture techniques to garments."

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Selvedge puzzle solved.

When I wrote the green scarf woven on a Noro Kureyon Sock yarn warp, I mentioned that I was puzzled that the selvedges that looked so neat on the loom were a bit wiggly after the scarf was off the loom and washed.

I think I have solved the puzzle. It came to me at an odd moment, as answers often do. I suddenly recalled that all the time I was weaving this scarf I was learning more about letting of warp tension, winding the warp on and then taking up tension again. The tension system on the Leclerc Voyageur is provided by a steel cable wrapped around the back beam and tethered with a texsolv cord that runs to a release lever near the front of the loom. I'm only just getting a feel for how to best use this system.

I recall that sometimes I wove a few picks of weft, then decided the tension was slack and took it up a bit more. By this means I have woven different tensions into the cloth. On the loom it looks even, off the loom it becomes obvious that it is not. This hasn't happened on my Toika floor loom, I find tension much easier to manage on the Toika, but it's early days yet with my little Leclerc Voyageur, maybe I'll do better now I am aware of this.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Storytime: Why I am a weaver - and colours for rugs

I had no knowledge of handweaving until 2005. It didn't exist in my world. I suppose I'd heard of it, I think I'd seen an odd loom in a museum, and I have a vague memory of visiting a village of artisans in France on a french exchange trip as a schoolchild where a handweaver sat at a loom weaving a rug.

I'd also only once seen a spinning wheel, in a museum at Ironbridge but what I remember most of that was that the lady in Welsh costume got up from her spinning wheel and gave us hot Welsh cakes to taste, straight from the griddle. Oh, so tasty!

Then in 2005 I was unexpectedly unemployed at then end of a University course. As I left University (first time) in a recession in the late 1980's I have previous experience of unemployment. The most remarkable thing about being unemployed is finding out how many hours there are in a day and in a week and then understanding that with no routine anymore you have to find your own way to organise your life. Looking for work and collecting unemployment benefit takes up a some of the hours. There are enough hours left to go out of your mind with boredom and anxiety - if you want to. I knew from the past that I needed to create some sort of structure and purpose for days / weeks in order to stay sane.

Then came an opportunity. We went to the Manifold Show - one of the traditional country / farming shows there are every summer in rural England. It poured with rain, everything was sodden, everyone wet through. Typical English summer. I remember admiring a few sheep in pens, admiring prize winning chickens and a slow tractor race. The rain came down in sheets. As it was being announced that the afternoon's show events were to be cancelled and the rain got heavier, we nipped into the nearest marquee. The rain thundered on to the canvas and wind whipped at the tent edges. Shelter from the weather was most welcome. We were wondering whether to go home. But in the farmost corner of the tent three very cheerful ladies were busy at spinning wheels. We wandered over. They had a display that taught me that these spinning wheels did not just look pretty, they produced yarn. The yarn could be dyed (yellow, from onion skins) and knitted into garments. O.K., you read this and it's just logical because you know about these things. I did not know about these things. I was virtually speechless with amazement.

I sat at a spinning wheel but was too nervous to try spinning the wool offered. I learnt that the spinners were members of a "Guild".

We went home. When I was warm and dry again I looked on the internet to find out about spinning and Guilds and spinning wheels. This was a Saturday evening. I found Chris's Spinndizzy resources page, and then the Loom Exchange. There were wheels advertised that looked like the one's we'd seen, it was called "Ashford Traditional". There was a wheel advertised that had the same phone code as us. That means it was within about 10 miles, and the next day, Sunday, was my birthday. What did I want for my birthday? That spinning wheel. We collected it next day. £90 for a wheel, handcarders, and a small bag of washed fleece.

The handcarders had a label on them saying "Wingham Woolworks" and a phone number. On Monday I phoned up and said, who are you, what do you do? They sold wool for spinners, and were just the other side of the Pennine hills, shop open Sundays and Mondays. The next Sunday I was there, in a barn full of amazing sights - all kinds of wool and other fibres, spinning wheels, etc. I bought some Jacob's wool and a booklet "Essentials of Handspinning" by Mabel Ross.

I had a useful talk with Ruth Gough (proprietor) who gave me some basic instruction and signed up to come back the next Tuesday for a day's lesson. This was the point where weaving came into my life. We were talking about uses for spun yarn. I hadn't knitted for years, obviously I needed to re-learn to use my yarn - but Ruth mentioned weaving. Being in South Yorkshire, which has a strong textile trade and tradition, she had learnt spinning and weaving at school. She picked up a copy of Marguerite Porter Davison's "A Handweaver's Pattern Book" and flicked through, saying you could weave these on a loom - and here's the one I wove for my A Level (a complicated overshot design). Again, I was amazed, too much to take in.

I went home and practiced starting and stopping the wheel for a few days, to the puzzlement of my boyfriend who thought the purpose was producing yarn. Then I got my Jacob's wool and Mabel Ross's instructions, and after several false starts produced some thick grey yarn. By the end of a day's lesson with Ruth, I had plied yarns in all sorts of wools and colours and a big glow of satisfaction. They said I was "a natural" and I was hooked. I was soon spending several hours a day at the wheel. I span every type of wool I could find, and put together a sample book with fleece and yarn and notes about the wool type and possible uses.

Weaving came a few months later. The nearest Guild to where I live was over an hour's drive away, that may not seem far if you are in the U.S., but the roads are narrow, hilly, and very twisty here and an hour's drive is hard work. At some times of year ice, wind and rain make the evening travel more difficult and even dangerous. Instead, I found the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers, and after thinking about it for a few weeks, signed up. Oh happy day - I was among friends. They taught me to spin other fibres (cotton and silk) and gave lots of advice and encouragement. I tentatively asked for advice about getting a loom. I fancied one of those little rigid heddle looms, or a table loom. Boyfriend advised I'd soon be bored and should think bigger. I asked the Guild, they agreed with him, and so it was that my first loom was to be a 2nd hand 8 shaft, 10 treadle Toika Norjanna.

And - yes, pictures at last - here is my very first piece of weaving:

The warp was kindly prepared ready to go on the loom by it's previous owner, who also gave me a plan for tying up the treadles and threading the heddles. I was using plain weave, diagonal 2-2 twill and 3-1, 1-3 blocks. The coloured rug wools came from Texere Yarns at Bradford, mill ends from the carpet industry, 80% wool and 20% nylon.

The sample was on the loom a few weeks, as I wove a bit, thought a bit, selected different colours.

This is the finish of it, I show if here just below the start so you can see how much I'd learnt about controlling the weaving, it's so very tidy at this end, compared to the start.

Here's some shots of the bits in between. I had a lot of fun mixing colours in alternate rows, or three row repeats, to make speckled or graduated effects.

Colour influences? Below strawberries, raseberries, billberries, water, sky...

Moorland and grassland...

Random "what if?" stuff...

My mother came to stay, and I showed her, and she asked "so what is it for?" That's a good question, it's an odd sort of rug, six feet long and about 14" wide. It's my sampler. I roll it up and unroll it. I look at it in different places in different lights. I fold it in different places, to put different sections next to each other and see how they work or compare different effects. It is a design tool. And, rolled up, it's very comfortable to sit on on the stone steps at the front of our house, when the spring sunshine is warm but the stone slabs cold.