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.


ladyoftheloom said...

Fascinating! I love linen fabric and clothing but i have never woven it. The sampler is beautiful.

Meg said...

Dear Dot, I haven't woven the same drafts in different textiles systematically to study the difference, but have had a couple of goes just because I liked the drafts, and got predictable, great, AND disheartening results. I am interested in doing this more systematically at some point, particularly the trusty 4-shaft Davison and Swedish drafts. I have also woven in different sized yarns of the same constitution and found the difference in scale amusing. (Again, some OK, some pretty bad.) I'm very interested in this aspect, particularly in relation to the size/width of the cloth and the intended final use.

In the end, I missed out on the TradeMe (NZ eBay) auction for TWO Swedish temples, as I dithered because I was still tidying my stash room. I might look at it more seriously next time something like that comes up.

Thank you for your post/s.

Anonymous said...

The linen cloth is beautiful! I wish being able to feel the hand of it was something that could carry over the internet. I appreciate the information on sizing, and it's marvelous to be able to see the differences in how cotton and linen behaves. Again, how I wish I could touch the real things!

Barbara Blundell said...

Fabulous results !

Dorothy said...

Hi everyone, thanks for reading and commenting ;)

Spinninglizzy, the feel of it is an interesting discovery. It is not like shop bought linen clothing I have, partly the yarn is not as fine, but also the bought stuff does not have this soft and very smooth feel. The twill weave, even in a mix of patterns, gives a lovely drape to the cloth. I didn't understand why there was this tradition I'd read about of a gentle first wash and then cold mangling, or smoothing the linen. Now I've tried it, I do understand, it is kind to the linen and the finish is very special.

Leigh said...

This turned out wonderfully! I really love the feel of linen, but have never woven with it. This post is full of really helpful information.

I think your idea to weave the same thing in both cotton and then linen excellent. Comparing like that is a great way to learn. I love the outcome.

Peg in South Carolina said...

I have always thought of linen--or at least linen fabric--as very very sturdy. It survives countless very hard washings and bleachings--whether used as bed linen (rare these days) or as towels, or as table linens and yet ends up becoming softer and more beautiful until it turns into an heirloom for one's children and grandchildren.

Peg in South Carolina said...

I noted your comment on temples and heave read similar things about the differences between the metal and wooden ones. Still, I have used metal temples on my 60/2 silks with no damage whatsoever. There may be tiny holes when I remove it, but by the time it goes onto the front beam, the holes are generally gone, and any that might still be there disappear with the washing. Still, I may take it upon myself to buy a wooden temple to test it out.

Life Looms Large said...

Thanks for all the great info about weaving with linen!! I've just purchased a good amount of linen at my guild's yarn table. I have some neutral colors for the table, and a beautiful blue that might turn into something I can wear.

But of course, first I have to learn to weave with it!!

I'll definitely refer back to this post and to the books you mentioned. Thanks for such great info!


sampling said...

Dorothy, I really like your idea of weaving the sample blanket in the different materials. I have planned to weave the blanket in wool but will now aim to try it in different fibres as well. Did you think the size of each weave structure was enough to get a good feel of it? I was thinking of doubling the size although this will make it a much bigger project.

Janet said...

Dot - your weaving is beautiful. I wish I could get a tie-up as even as yours - very neat. What a joy to weave.

Thanks for the book references. I would love to find that self-published book.

trapunto said...

Lovely fabric, and great information on sizing and cold mangling. I didn't know it was something that could be accomplished at home with a simple tool. I'll bet one of those marble rolling pins and marble pastry slabs would also work. Once again I'm filing one of your posts away in my brain for future reference!

Clare said...

The blanket's lovely, so much nicer than the cotton. I am a big fan of linen too, and have woven a lot with 2/28 unbleached linen which I love, though it is a nightmare to weave with, and I still can't get my selvedges really good.

I tried recently weaving with linen on a cotton warp, as they suggest in Vav magasinet, and that was good too and much easier than a linen warp.

I've used a size of boiled cornflour with vegetable oil, that worked well too, and stopped the linen from fluffing up.

I love your blog, it's so great to be able to see and read about what other people are doing!

Clare near Carnforth