Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Join the festive towel exchange

Meg has done a stirling job of organising another virtual exhibition, this one combined with a towel exchange. It's just opened, and it's not too late to join in!

The exhibition is opened here.

Have a look at the lovely towels here.

And if you'd like to join in, the details are here!

Collapse scarves

After working on teatowel fabric, the babys blankets and C's blanket for so many months, I wanted to get back to my main interest, fine weaving. I'd dyed some 30/2 silk and silk caps way back here and it had been sitting on an old French reel in the window of my studio for months, taunting me to do something with it. The 30/2 silk, I had space-dyed in three shades of green: an avocado green, a yellow variant of it, and a blue variant of it. At the same time I dyed two silk caps in two shades of sandy yellow-brown, and two more in the same greens as the warp.

I had enough silk for 4 m of warp 14 inches wide at 30epi. I wound up a warp, and bearing in mind that I've had a problem of my warps being narrower on the beam than in the reed, I spread this out in the raddle at 20epi and beamed it on at that rate. Oddly, that gave me a wap spread perfectly on the beam for 30epi. I have no idea why, but it works.

I wanted to try a crammed-and-spaced approach, as described in Sharon Alderman's book, to get a softly waving, almost pleated structure. This is something that works best in 'grabby' fabrics like wool, but I wanted to try it in silk. I had just enough warp for two scarves but no scope for sampling, so the first scarf was going to be the sample - a brave approach when you have so much expensive silk on the loom!

Crammed and spaced is where the warp is not sleyed in the reed evenly, but at a different rate across the warp. There are no hard and fast rules about how to do this, but it's a good idea to have the overall sett roughly eqivalent to a twill sett. In this case, with a recommended overall sett of 30epi (3 ends per dent in a 10-dent reed), I chose a rate that would take me from double sett to nothing at all. I'd threaded the heddles in changing twill arrangements, in blocks of 32 ends each, so I wanted each change of sett to add up to 32 threads. So after doing some calculations I centered the sett around the pattern, and from the centre sleyed 6-5-5-4-3-3-2-2-1-1, with one empty dent between each block. Note that there's only one set of 6 ends per dent because the next block starts with 6epd immediately next to it, and only one dent with 4 epd, to make up the numbers. I did a little bit of jiggery-pokery with the numbers at each side to make sure the last dent was set at 3epd, and laid a doubled floating selvedge beside that.

After so long working in all that heavy cotton and wool, I'd forgotten hownice it is to work with silk. So luxurious, with such a nice hand feel. Below is the warp, sleyed in the reed, laced on and with a header for spacing. You can see the changing rate of sleying.

I wove the first scarf in the spun yellow silk cap, spun until it was overtwisted. This yielded a slightly harsher-feeling fabric than the silk warp on its own. The collapse when it first came off the loom was somewhat alarming and unnatractive, but after a wash and press I've ended up with an interesting, slightly undulating fabric with a lovely contrast between the green, warp-dominated areas and the slightly wonky yellow weft-dominated areas.

For the second scarf I'd thought to use the same overtwisted yellow silk, but I wove a header of green, spun but not overtwisted, silk cap - the same green as the warp - intending that to be just the end of the scarf, with the body of the scarf in the yellow. I hadn't expected the green to have much drama at all, but I was completely unprepared for just how gorgeous a structure the broken twill gave the almost-monochrome (remember there's some slight variegation in both the warp and weft). I immediately unwove the small area of yellow I'd put in, and wove the whole scarf in the green.

Here, hanging over the doorway, is the washed and pressed but not finished yellow and silk scarf, and the unwashed green scarf. From 14" in the reed, the green scarf is 14" off the loom, and the green and yellow is a little under 10" wide after shrinkage.

The feel of the scarves is quite different, solely due to the overspinning of the yellow silk cap, although admittedly the green scarf still has to be washed. The green scarf is significantly softer than the green and yellow (in fact I'm completely unable to resist fondling the green every time I walk past it), but is a flat fabric. The yellow is still soft, although with a the rougher feel of raw silk, but has the most interesting drape to it in the spare warp parts. This is really encouraged me, and I'm planning to explore this technique more, with a wool or cashmere warp and an overspun silk weft.

Finally, a close-up of the green scarf, showing the interest of the weave structure. The slight gaps in the wide warp-dominant areas are due to slippage while winding on around the breast beam, and disappear during washing.

The festive towel exchange

These are my entries for the festive towel exchange. Mine are more neutral than festive, but there you go.

The first is the "Chocolate makes everything better" towel.

This is woven in 8/2 cotton, in brown and beige stripes, from a draft of my own design. It's a thick, sturdy, thirsty towel, designed for drying up the festive meal dishes.

A close-up of the weave structure:

The second towel is called "Autumn leaves". This is a honeycomb dishcloth, woven in stripes of rose-brown, soft olive green and pale beige organic Foxfibre 10/2 cotton. The dominant colour of the towel is the brown, with the green and olive as highlights. The photo below shows the natural colours; the next two are a little yellow because they were taken in artificial light.

This was my first foray into honeycomb. I've been wanting to use the finer Foxfibres in my stash for some time now, and honeycomb seemed the obvious choice. I enjoyed the exploration - I've been developing an interestin 3-D weaving lately!

Monday, 27 October 2008

How to use an autodenter

With my recent spending splurge, I had the opportunity to pick up an autodenter at a discount. I've always been curious about how these worked, so I decided to try it. Wow. What an ingenious piece of equipment. Truly a labour-saving device. The point of an autodenter is that you never need take the denter out of the reed, meaning it becomes much, much harder to miss a dent when sleying the reed. I learned a few things in teaching myself how to use this, so I thought I'd share the tips.

In this example, I'm sleying a 10-dent reed, 2 ends per dent, with 10/2 cotton which is in a straight threading. In addition to this, I always sley in both directions from the centre of the reed. This is for two reasons - the shafts on my loom have threads in the centre which stop the hedlles from moving past them so I have to thread that way, and it also saves me from having to figure out where in the reed to start.

I've found it's best to have the reed as far forward from the heddles as you can get it. You're less likely to get yourself in a tangle if you give yourself plenty of space to work. In addition, I've found that it's best to work with the autodenter in the top half of the reed, while keeping the threads at the bottom of the reed for the same reason.

You can see in the above photo that the autodenter is bent at the top. The autodenter will be composed of a (probably wooden) handle, and three pieces of metal - two are pressed together like a pair of closed tweezers, and they hold the third piece extending beyond them. If you look closely, you'll see that the two lower pieces of metal are slightly curved to one side where they hold the long piece.

Insert the autodenter into the first dent, with the metal flap at the top pointing away from the direction in which you are sleying - in this example, I'm sleying from right to left so the flap is pointing right. If you're still not sure you have the correct orientation, take a look at the lower pieces of metal - the little curve should be in the direction you plan to move, because it's these that will pick up the dents. You can see this clearly in some of the lower photos (particularly the one with my hand in it) if you click to enlarge them.

Untie one group of ends at a time, and carefully seperate them out, laying them on top of the heddles in groups in order that they are to be sleyed through the reed. In this case, I had groups of 8 ends, which were divided into four groups of two ends each:

Select the threads you want to pull through that dent, and wp them around the hook.

Pull the hook part of the autodenter back through the reed. The 'tooth' of the autodenter should pick up the steel seperator, so that the steel of the reed runs through between the right-hand (in this case) and the main hook part of the autodenter. As the reed passes the place where the pain hook part is held, you'll hear a click. You can see, in the photo below, the metal pieces seperating to allow the dent to pass through. (Apologies for the fuzziness of the photo, it's hard to do this one-handed and take photos at the same time).

By this stage, the hook should have come through the reed, bringing the thread with it. The metal flap at the top prevents the autodenter from coming all the way through, unless you twist it to allow it to do so.

With the hand not holding the autodenter, take the thread from the hook and lay it at the bottom of the dent, below the autodenter.

Now slide the autodenter forward. The left-hand tooth should engage the metal divider this time, so that it slides between the left-hand tooth and the central hook piece of the autodenter. You shouldn't need to put too much pressure on it to accomplish this, but you may have to wiggle the autodenter slightly to ensure the dent divider goes through. Then you're in the next dent and can grab the thread as before.

If the autodenter bends like in the image below, you're putting too much pressure on it:

If you put a lot of lateral pressure on the autodenter, you risk opening the lower two metal pieces, and allowing the long, central hook to be pulled out. If this happens, just use a thin metal instrument like a reed hook to prise the lower metal pieces apart and reinsert the central piece.

If, for any reason, you have to stop sleying the reed while using the autodenter, it's simple to balance the autodenter in the top of the dent, as in the top image. If you have to remove the autodenter and start sleying at a later stage, insert he autodenter in the same dent as the previous set of threads, because pulling the autodenter backwards is what moves you on. Double-check that the threads are in the correct dents before moving on.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Open studios: worth it?

So I've been thinking.

I've been toying with the idea of joining the Cambridge Open Studios scheme for a while, and I wonder whether this is the year. I feel I have my studio set up to a stage where it's a possibility, without looking an amateur. There's also the chance another local weaver (who I've not yet met, but who my neighbour across the road assures me is keen to meet me) may join me.

Open studios are held on the weekends of July each year, and there's quite a bit of money the time I join and pay to for a listing in the advert, I'd be paying £170 as well as committing myself to volunteer time. I don't know whether I could recoup that money in sales. But on the other hand, it's mostly about volunteering and meeting other artists in the area, which would make it worthwhile. I do work in a bit of a vacuum aside from the interactions on my weaving blog.

If I were to do it, would I want to commit myself to being tied to the house and having strangers traipsing through my house for four weekends in a row, or would it be better to only do one or two weekends to give myself a taster? Would I be limiting myself by only doing a weekend or two? As most of the people who have open studios are painters, would that be an advantage or disadvantage to me?

I don't have to commit myself until mid-January, which coincides with a seminar which would probably answer some of those questions. There's also a man here at work who paints and has held open studios for a number of years, so I may talk to him, although he's very busy at present. I don't know what the answer is, but it's worth mulling the idea if I want to take my weaving from expensive hobby to something slightly more serious.

I'd appreciate opinions.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Cone winding accessory development

How strange: google would not let me log in all weekend at home, but it has no problem with the work computer.

Anyway, while awaiting delivery of my sectional beam I've been putting some thought into how to go about winding the bouts for the warp. I didn't particularly want to take the bobbin/rack approach that it normally used because it means yet more stuff, and seems a lot of work. But I have a lot of left-over cones from yarns I've used and recycling them appeals to me. What's more, I have a large bookcase against the wall behind where I sit to weave on the loom, and I've started to picture a set-up whereby I place cones on the floor in front of the bookcase, and run the yarn up to eyelets attached to blocks of wood, which I'll have protruding from the bookcase, weighted down by the books. Unconventional I'll grant you, but it might just work.

That left the problem of how to wind the cones. You can buy cone winders, but they're large, commercial pieces of equipment and they're expensive. Experiments proves that ball winders don't work because they're not tall enough - even the larger size. That left me looking at my bobbin winder, if I could find some way to get the bobbin winder to hold the cones. I already use a last of a sort in the form of a cardboard quill thickened slightly with packing tape, to hold on pirns as I wind them. But what to use? I thought of buying a large cork, the type used for large demi-johns in wine making, but they were too small.

Then curiousweaver posted here about a wooden last a friend had made, which enables her to wind cones on her electric bobbin winder. By sheer coincidence, I'd picked up an electric bobbin winder very cheaply the day before on Ebay, thinking that something similar could be achieved. I don't have access to a lathe until we can get space somewhere for a workshop, so I cast about for alternatives. It had to be light-weight but strong. And then it hit me. Papier-mache is light-weight and strong, especially if it's contained in a plastic cone. So I gathered my materials:

A plastic cone, a large bottle of PVA glue, a bit of packing tape, some shredded paper and a cardboard quill. The cardboard quill is probably optional, but including it gives me the option ti use either the electric bobbin winder or my hand-operated bobbin winder. This particular quill is the one I have been using to place pirns onto to use on the bobbin winder - you can see the packing tape I've used to pack it out a bit.

The first thing I did was to wind the quill with more packing tape, making sure to seal one end, to protect it from the wetness of the glue.

Then I put the PVA in a bowl, watered it down slightly, and wet some strips of newspaper with the glue.

I used these to line the plastic cone. This is difficult to do, because the wet floppy paper wants to stick to everything, but I found by folding them in half and rolling them slightly, it could be made to work.

Then I wet the shredded paper in the glue, packed the cone half-way with it, inserted the quill, and packed the rest of the cone with the paper-glue mixture. There were a few cellulose beads in there for good measure, simply because I had a lot of packing material all in one box from my recent deliveries. Once the cone was full, I made sure the quill was straight in the cone (not that it looks it in the next photo) and set it in a cardboard tube to sit up and dry.

It spent ages dripping glue out of the holes, so if I make another one I'll go with my initial impulse, which was to wrap the cone with masking tape prior to filling. I chose not to this time because I wanted to be able to wipe off any drips while they were still wet.

So how does it work? I'm afraid I have no idea yet - I made this 36 hours or so ago and it's still curing. This would probably be best made in layers, allowing each to dry, but this is a protype. I'll let you know.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

So many posibilities

My recent spending splurge came home to roost last night. I spent three hours running around, collecting eight parcels from couriers (it would have been two hours, but I had to go back to one courier because one of the boxes they gave me wasn't mine).

There now sit in my house, half-unpacked, the sectional warp beam kit, tensioning box and second back beam from Glimakra, a second-hand electric bobbin winder which I picked up cheaply on Ebay and hope to try winding cones with; and a knitting machine, ribber and table, which I intend experimenting with - I live in jeans and knit tops, and at £60 a pop in the shops for a nice plain knit top I've been considering making my own for a while now. I confidently expect delivery of a drum carder in the near future as well.

My goodness. Where to start.....? Finishing my busy working week is probably a good place.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The blanket: done, and already on its way

I finished the blanket on time, last week. Fulling it took two washes. Because the warp thread was oiled (probably intended for machine knitting), I washed it once with soap in 40C water. Little change. The second time, I did my normal wash at 40C using the Eco Balls I normally use instead of soap. The added agitation of the Eco Balls did the trick, and the blanket fulled nicely. The image above shows the blanket itself with some left-over fabric from assembling the panels, which is unwashed.

This photo is a close-up of the unwashed fabric on the top, and the washed blanket below. You can see, if you click on the larger photo, that the pattern has become more muted and integral to the fabric of the blanket. It's less obvious in the areas with pale weft, and more obvious in the areas with darker weft. The contrast pleases me. The reverse side (visible below) is equally attractive. I think, with a satin border, the blanket could be reversable.

I sewed the joining seams of the panels by hand, but when it came to the hems, I sewed them with my sewing machine, using an "invisible" hem stitch. It gives a visible stitch on the wrong side, but if done carefully, can't be seen on the right side. The photo above shows the two types of seams; the joining seam done by hand and the machine stitched hem. I'm pleased with the way fulling and shrinking has improved the flatness of the joining seam. The hems, because they were sewn with cotton thread, didn't shrink quite as much as the rest of the blanket, but I'm still undecided whether I'd sew before or after fulling with the next one.

In the end, the blanket came out to be not quite a double-sized blanket. It's a bit wider than a normal single, but only just covers my tiny double bed. Unfortunately in the rush to be prepared for C's departure, I didn't remember to measure it after washing!

There are a few things I'd change if making a blanket next time, although those things may be the things that give this the charm of a hand-made item: I'd try to get the variegations more evenly spread throughout the blanket if I were making a variegated blanket again, and I'd reconsider how I went about hemming it (although I think that the hemming was a success). I've enjoyed doing this, and I'm certainly happy enough that I'm considering making a four-panel blanket in beige and chocolate brown, to go on the bed. Possibly even in a braided weave again.

And here it is, packed and in C's bag ready to go. This photo is actually a work of fiction, because after I took this he brought his skis home and we decided that it was the perfect thing to wrap around his skis for the trip down. The blanket and skis are now in Punta Arenas, awaiting the first plane for parts further south. I won't see it, or C, for the next six months. But I have a lot of projects to keep me busy during that time!