Thursday 29 October 2009

Janet Phillips' sample blanket - in wool

I have woven Janet Phillips' sample blanket again!

I wondered why I was doing this, I thought of other things I could weave, but there's no getting away from it. The sample blanket in linen was very different from the same in cotton, and the only way to learn about these weave structures in wool and be able to compare the way it behaves to the way the other fibres work, was to wind the warp, thread up and weave. I'm certainly getting good value from Janet's book, Designing Woven Fabrics.

I am delighted that I pushed myself to do this. One of the things that is very different in wool, is that because it shrinks more the weaves with floats get wonderful bobble textures, and the effect in these woollen tweed yarns is like moss and wood. The Shetland wool yarns came from Fairfield Yarns, they are not repeatable as they are mill ends, but both Fairfield Yarns and Uppingham Yarns may have this type of yarn in stock and will send samples. It isn't a soft yarn, but would be great for upholstery or outer clothing such as a jacket or a lined skirt.

It's worth mentioning that I left out the wavy twill threading for the linen and wool samplers, as in the original cotton it was threaded in a different warp yarn half the size of the rest of the warp threads. However, there is still a wavy section in the treadle sequence.

I took a few of these close up photos, to give you an idea of what it's like. Many of the sections not photographed have very subtle classic tweed fabric look, differently lovely but harder to show in a photo.

Now, getting back to technical stuff, I left some bits out of telling you about weaving the linen sample blanket. It was the first time of my using a new method for tensioning the warp whilst winding on. I often see recommendations of Kati Reeder Meek's method for "Warping with a Trapeeze" and other people use different means of stretching the warp out width ways and length ways to get good even tension.

As I have a sloping ceiling, and limited space around the loom, the best way for me to do this seemed to be to get the warp to the front of the loom, and then wrap in around the front beam, and up and over the castle.

Stage one, to the front of the loom.

Then up and over...

View from the back beam (if you look closely you can see the raddle on the top of the back beam)

My lease sticks were in place just before the back beam.

And behind the loom I held all the warp on one hand, and wound on with the other. Actually, I held the warp with my right hand because the beam winder is on my left, but I couldn't photograph this as my camera is only useable one handed with the right hand (o.k., I could have fetched the tripod, but I didn't bother).

Of course when most of the warp was wound on, it wasn't long enough to reach up and over, so I reverted to my old method.

It worked very well, and I had no tension problems at all. Linen is much less difficult to handle than I expected, but then I was mindful of the need to look after it well thoughout the preparation, and I should point out that this Finish Toika loom, with it's solid construction, is ideal for working with a high warp tension - recommended for linen. Also, I wound the warp careful, used lots of warp ties, and wound it on to the loom with care.

Everything I learnt while handling the linen was then applied when I returned to the more familiar woolen warp, including careful use of a temple, edged on 2 cm at a time. This is a great help with the sample blanket particularly because all those different weave structures have different tension. I never wove such neat edges before, and I was able to weave right to the limit of the warp. From the front, I stopped this close to the heddles,

...while at the back the apron rod was up to the shaft cords,

Loom waste was down to 50 cm by the time I'd cut off carefully at the front and tied tassels both ends. Here is the sequence of photos I took to show untying from the front apron rod, carefully removing excess weft before the start of the blanket, and overhand knotting the tassels.

Finished project.

I took all three of the sample blankets along to the Cheshire Guild's Friendship Day, it was a great ice-breaker in a room full of people I'd not met before, when I got these out several weavers, and would-be weavers, introduced themselves and came over to look at and feel the blankets.

Friday 2 October 2009

Sample blanket in linen

There's generally a lapse between me weaving something and writing about it, but with all the excitement of inkle weaving and my new Henning band loom the story of weaving Janet Phillip's sample blanket in linen yarns is over a month old. This is what I was up to at the end of August. I had this on the loom between my Japanese Indigo dye sessions.

A fellow weaver asked recently if I use a temple (or stretcher), yes, I normally do. There are weavers who do and weavers who don't and some have strong opinions about them. I don't have any strong views. This is what works for me. I favour the Toika and Glimakra wooden temples, I have some of each and a good range of different sizes. I also have Toika metal temples but with their larger and longer teeth they are brutish in fine fabrics, so I save them for rugs.

If you don't know what a temple is, in the above photo there is one next to the weaving shuttle. It has little teeth at either end that are down into the woven fabric, teeth pointing outwards and maintaining an even fabric width. While weaving this linen sampler I was moving it more frequently than usual because linen stretches less than cotton or wool and needs keeping at even tension. If the edges draw in a little this increases the tension in the selvedges.

I had several threads snap when this warp was first on the loom and I was weaving my header rows to get the threads spread and check the set up was right. This problem was cured by use of a "size". Size is painted onto the threads to protect them. It helps the fibres stick together and dries to make the yarn smoother in the heddles and reed, less friction means less broken threads. Actually, it meant no more broken threads, worked a treat.

As I have never used size before I dug around in various weaving books and found different recipes. I didn't know what to choose, so I e-mailed the Yahoo list "WeaveTech" to ask for help. I got a great response from people who were used to linen and had their own favourite recipes. I also got advice about different types of size to use on different types of thread.

The top favourites for linen are a recipe given by Kati Reeder Meek in her book "Reflections from a Flaxen Past" (details given below) using flax seeds or alternatively a mix of flour and water with a vegetable oil or tallow.

I was going to try out more than one recipe, but Kati's method worked so I stuck with it. I did get into some difficulties first time I tried to make it because of the differences between US measuring systems and European, but basically the principle is you need eight parts water to one part seeds (whatever the unit of measurement), put in a saucepan and heat gently. I found it takes about 3/4 hour to turn to a gel "the consistency of egg white". First time, I got stuck because I brewed it up too strong (not enough water) and then I couldn't get the flax gel through a sieve in order to remove the seeds! It works beautiful at 8:1. I added a teaspoon of vinegar as preservative, although the mix is kept in a jam jar in the fridge. To apply it to the warp I used a piece of synthetic sponge, wiped it on to the top and bottom of threads between the back beam of the loom and the heddles. I tied a twist of bright thread to the selvedge as marker so I knew how far the size went, even when the warp was advanced along the loom. It dries very quickly, but a slightly damp warp is an advantage with linen, which is 20% stronger when wet.

If you haven't looked back at my earlier posts about Janet Phillip's sample blanket, the details for weaving this are given in her beautiful book "Designing Woven Fabrics" which was published last year, here's Janet's website. It is a twill sampler, with 10 different patterns across the width of the loom, and 50 different treadling patterns, so you end up with 500 different weave patterns displayed. This gives you a design tool for your own weaving projects.

O.K., so I wove it once before in cotton, why weave it again? My theory was that I could learn about how linen behaves by comparing this blanket to the cotton one I wove before. I also chose to work with a lower colour contrast between warp and weft, and then to use two different colours in the weft. As the linen thread is finer than the 2/6 cotton I used before I doubled each pattern section, using twice as many warp threads, but I left out the last threading pattern which is a wavy twill. Because of using two different weft threads, I made my warp extra long, this time I put on 6 metres. Looking back I used a 6 metre warp when I wove in cotton, and added a chenille weft sampler at the end of the warp.

I actually have another warp on my loom at this moment, and am weaving the same sample blanket in wool, and once again learning a great deal about weaving, weave patterns and how different wool yarns behave compared to the cotton or linen. No photos just yet, so let me entertain you with some of the lovely patterns in the linen sampler.

And here's the whole great length of fabric off the loom. Once it was off the loom, for the first time ever I was handling a great length of hand woven linen, and it feels simply gorgeous. It is both soft and smooth at the same time, even before I'd washed out the linen size, but even more so when washed and finished.

Washing? This I did in the bath, with many changes of water. Then so as not to damage the linen I took it outside wet through (no washing machine spin) to drip dry on the washing line. I pegged it by one selvedge, taking care to wrap as little fabric as possible around the line, again, to avoid damaging the linen. The fabric was so, so soft now. Beautiful.

Then, following the instructions common to all my reference sources for weaving linen, it was time for the cold press / smoothing iron / mangle. In my case, the tools I had for this job were my marble pastry board and a (very carefully cleaned) rolling pin.

Why the cold press? Heat can make linen brittle. The purpose of this cold pressing is to push the threads into place around each other, and make sure that they set into the weave structure - not into folds or creases. This actually increases the strength and integrity of the woven fabric. It didn't take long. The rolling pin I used as a smoother, pushing back and forth, not as a roller. The process brought a lovely shine back to the linen, but it remained soft to touch.

Looking at the finished blanket, I wanted to compare the pattern squares in linen with the same pattern squares in cotton. I realised this would be easier if the pattern sections were labeled, especially as most were woven twice over in the linen sampler, in the two different weft colours, and a couple I left out because I had got to the end of the warp and ran out of space to weave them all!

These little tags were made from a cotton cloth tape I bought in the local sewing supplies shop, it is a special weave that doesn't need hemming. I wrote the names with a laundry marker pen, cut the tape, sewed on the labels with my sewing machine.

Now for anyone wanting to learn about weaving linen, here are my three favourite books.

Linen Handspinning and Weaving, Patricia Baines, pub. Batsford, 1989, ISBN 0-934026-52-1
(Out of print)

This book includes a lot of history. It is the best book if you want to grow flax or spin linen thread, as well as weave, not to forget caring for your woven cloth. There is a lot of detail, and a long bibliography.

The very best information on hand weaving linen as at the end of this amazing history book,
Reflections from a Flaxen Past, for Love of Lithuanian Weaving, by Kati Reeder Meek, Pennannular Press International, 2001, ISBN 0-9700648-0-2.

This is a self published book, and Kati has crammed into its 202 pages more than you would imagine possible. She travelled to Lithuania and carried out extensive research there and also among ex-patriate Lithuanian weavers who have settled in the U.S. There is a section featuring the individual weavers and their work, showing a rich and varied tradition.

One of the pages of old photographs shows some wonderful old band / sash weaving looms, little table top looms but some have dobby or jacquard devices (no drawlooms though, like my Henning Band Loom).

This third book is another good history book, not much on techniques for weaving, but plenty of 19th century American linen patterns collected by the author.

Linen Heirlooms, Constance Dann Gallagher, pub. Charles T Branford Company, Massachusetts, 1968, Library of Congress Catalog Number 68-55173 (no ISBN).

Now if I didn't sneek in enough views of the linen in the above photos to get across the interest and beauty of this, here are some more views

Just to finish, some pictures showing the same weave patterns, first in cotton, then linen.