Wednesday, 29 October 2008

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.


  1. Those scarves are just gorgeous!

  2. Thanks Connie! They've been a joy to create.

  3. I am so glad you are going to try this with a wool or cashmere warp, because what you have done is really beautiful. But the question is how to keep those loosely woven yarns from slipping and sliding when you wear it. I am eager to see if the wool warp will keep the silk from slipping and sliding.

  4. Thanks Peg. I'm really looking forward to seeing what this looks like in wool.

    It is definitely going to be interesting to see how well these wear, but they're a lot more stable than they look. The loose floaty sections are no more than 1 cm wide, and the longest float is less than 1/2 cm. And the crammed sections hold the weft very firmly because they're quite firmly woven, so although it's obviously always going to be a delicate scarf, I have my fingers crossed on that one.