I’m very much a beginner weaver.
Since early childhood I’ve been entranced by textiles; of all the crafts I could do, those involving fabric, thread, yarn, fibre – they are the ones that hold my attention the most, make my heart skip a beat with the possibilities and draw me back to them time and again.
So once I became a spinner, weaving was an enticing next step. However despite having learned the basics of weaving cloth shortly after my forays into spinning I’ve not got very far. Weaving is a very structured craft. Whilst it’s true of most textile arts that you can be as scientific or as freeform as you like and this applies to weaving as well, the fact remains that you do at least have to understand the principles of how woven cloth works before you can start breaking the rules with wild abandon … or at least be prepared for confused disappointment when it doesn’t work out how you thought it would!
Although I do own an 8-shaft floor loom – a piece of equipment whose possibilities far outstrip my capabilities – it’s still stored in pieces waiting for the time and space that will probably never come when I can experiment. All my tiny weaving efforts now are on my Rigid Heddle Loom which I bought a few years ago when I realised that having what I regarded as a “toy” loom was better than having a professional loom that wasn’t even in working order. The more I looked into RH looms, the more I realised I had been very prejudiced about them and in fact you can weave really beautiful pieces of cloth on them and the limits are more to do with your own mind than what it can’t do technically.
Last week I wove some fairly random pieces of cloth using a borrowed piece of kit. One of my friends leant me her relatively new Vari-heddle that some companies have made to expand the varieties of textiles crafters can weave. Without going into too much detail, the vari-heddle allows you to warp your loom with differing thicknesses of yarn adding texture to it rather than just to the weft. I wanted to use up some of my handspun, hand dyed art yarns that I’d had lying around for a while and had great fun putting colours and textures together in random groups in a style not dissimilar to Saori weaving.
I really love how they’ve turned out. They still need “finishing” – a piece of cloth is not complete when it comes off the loom; it needs washing and usually fulling (like controlled felting) to make the threads settle together and shrink down to make a harder wearing fabric or in the case of weave structures with more texture like waffle, honeycomb, collapse weave etc, to reenergise twist or to snap the woven structure into the final shape. But these won’t need a huge amount of finishing, I showed them to friends yesterday to pick their brains and the general consensus amongst us was that a light touch was desirable. I’ll probably underline the fabric before turning them into cushions for my home.
However I’m also someone who appreciates structure and order. Whilst I love clean simple understated lines, my brain struggles with the maths necessary to translate the principles into the cloth I’d like to weave. Random, arty cloth like the above is more my style of crafting! But I’ve longed to push the capabilities of my little rigid heddle loom into more complex patterns than just plain “tabby” weave. I’ve owned extra heddles and several weaving books for some time and this particular loom (a Schacht Flip) was purchased specifically because I wanted to learn how to weave with two heddles at some point. I never really understood from the instructions how it was meant to work though, the extra block for the second heddle didn’t seem right and although I understood the general idea for warping up through two heddles and I learned to weave on a 4-shaft loom anyway, I’d never seen someone weave like this on a RHL and so I kept putting it off.
Two of my friends went on a course to learn just this last summer and yesterday they ran a skills sharing workshop for our Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers to help some more of us explore this kind of weaving. It was heartening to see just how many us turned up clutching our little looms in a Guild that usually consists almost entirely of spinners in a regular meeting!
This wasn’t a formal workshop, more a way of collectively passing on ideas and techniques and helping each other out, something that our Guild is good at because we’re very small and informal and our members friendly (and slightly bonkers at times – but we won’t go into that here!!).
To start with there was a bit of muddling around trying to remember what went where but by lunchtime we were all ready to start playing with the short test warps we’d put on.
Because I don’t “do” maths this warp wasn’t calculated or sett correctly – basically the threads are too chunky for the spacing of the holes and slots in my heddle. There are ways around this – I could have sett it differently, used thinner yarns if I’d brought them or I could even go out and buy some different sized heddles … fibre crafts tend to get expensive when you start getting addicted!! In the future I’ll be using either thicker yarns spaced at half the density or much finer yarns but having started this warp I carried on just so as to learn the principles.
So with plain weave this created a warp-faced fabric and meant I had little stripes running up the dense fabric.
I also had to get used to manoeuvring two heddles and 4 sets of warp threads in what amounts to very little space on a RHL, the shed created isn’t that deep and the area between the fell line and heddle isn’t huge so weaving with a stick shuttle and a sticky warp like these wool weaving yarns meant I didn’t clear the shed every time and skipped some warp threads which you can see lying loose in the middle of the picture.
Once I’d got the feel of tabby weave with two heddles it was time to start playing. A friend was weaving houndstooth check on her loom so I wound off the two colours onto my shuttles and tried myself. Because of the close sett and warp-faced cloth the pattern didn’t emerge at first so I beat the cloth between each pick very tightly (this fabric will be bullet-proof!) and if you squint slightly you can sort of see the houndstooth pattern emerging from the vertical lines on the cloth!
By now it was time to clear up the hall and kitchens and pack up for home. A lot of the day was spent discussing the technique and warping up the looms rather than focussing on making actual cloth but I really appreciated the chance to pick the brains of other Guild members and resources and so when I got home I carried on playing with what was left of the warp using my copy of The Weaver’s Idea Book for inspiration. Knowing that the tight warp would limit what I could do and not having any string heddles ready for experimenting with twill and other more complex pick up patterns I just concentrated on texture using the two heddles and a supplementary weft.
I really liked this modified basket weave – it looks really smart and think it could make some interesting household textiles.
I then found a contrasting and slightly thicker yarn for supplementary weft and tried making spots.
They didn’t work so well because of the sett so I for the last bit of warp I moved onto making little “flowers”. Again, the tight fabric meant they didn’t show up. I kept trying to make the draft pattern work but either because of this or maybe a possible error in the draft in the book I just couldn’t make anything like flowers appear on my cloth. So I pondered the heddles over a cup of coffee and worked out a different draft to get the same kind of pattern only introducing larger areas of plain weave between the contrast rows. I thought it was quite a nice pattern to go out on to conclude my first dabbling into weaving with two heddles!
Next time I do this I’ll use much finer yarns and also prepare a heddle stick ready for playing with some pick up drafts and twill and hopefully also make some double cloth. But for now I’m really happy with my first “double troubles”!