Narrow-width Handwoven Fabric

and the challenge of creating garments with it.

One important difference between commercially-made and handwoven fabric is the former is usually woven on mechanized looms at a width of 45 inches or more, and handwoven fabric is frequently made on a smaller scale loom and often woven at a much narrower width.

Using a formula to calculate how much yarn will be needed for a project, the weaver must figure out the sett, or how many ends (individual warp threads) there will be in each inch, multiply that by the number of inches of fabric width, then multiply by the warp length, usually in yards. That number is the total yardage of warp yarn required for a project. The required amount of weft yarn must be estimated similarly.

Many of us impulse-buy a given quantity of yarn and add it to our stash, uncertain of the exact project for which it will later be used. At some time in the future, the light bulb of a creative idea lights up overhead and we have to determine if we have enough yarn available to create our desired project. For example, perhaps we have just enough of THIS yarn available to warp a 25-inch wide fabric set at 12 ends per inch with a total warp length of 3.85 yards. And perhaps we have enough of THAT yarn to weave as weft, assuming 10-11 picks (woven rows) per inch, weaving a total of 112 inches, or 3.1 yards of woven fabric.

Figuring that we will lose about 27 inches of warp to the parts tied to the back and front beams of the loom, as well as draw-in, take-up and shrinkage, we will be lucky to produce a finished fabric that is 20-some inches wide and barely 3 yards long. After wet-finishing and ironing the fabric, if it becomes evident that it would be beautiful made up into a jacket or some other wearable item, we now must find a garment pattern with pieces small enough to lay out on the narrow and short fabric and still have enough to cover a body.

Such was the challenge I faced late last year with two narrow pieces of handwoven cloth. One fabric was woven with a slate-blue silk noil warp and a black wool weft. The finished fabric was about 24 inches wide, but just 3 yards long. I thought it would make a great jacket fabric, but it was going to be difficult to find a pattern that could be made up with such a small amount of cloth. Likewise, another handwoven I had made with an alpaca warp and a wool crepe weft (plied with a silver lurex strand, for a sparkling winter white effect). The crepe yarn wants to collapse; it is stretchy and it pulled in at the edges of the fabric as I wove. This finished fabric ended up only 20 inches wide, but about 4 yards long.

I needed a jacket pattern that called for minimal hems and no overlapping facings. Fortunately I found a pattern for a zipper-closed puffy coat: McCall’s 7695. Rather than make the outer fabric puffy with batting, I purchased a quilted lining for the blue/gray fabric and a plain white lining for the alpaca/wool fabric, as well as separating zippers for the non-overlapping front closure. On the blue/gray fabric the pattern pieces extended selvedge to selvedge and I had to crowd them end to end. No extra fabric to spare! The jacket back pattern piece extended past the selvedge of the alpaca/wool fabric, so I had to cut just a portion of it, splicing in a piece down center back. Again, no fabric to spare!

This story does not fully convey my lengthy and nerve-wracking search for a jacket pattern solution, nor the late-night layout problem-solving that disturbed my sleep. But the story has a happy ending: I have two new lined jackets made from my own handwoven, albeit too-narrow, too-short cloth.


Reuse, Recycle, Repeat

Old blue jeans were recycled into a rug, then recycled again when the old rug wore out.

About 25 years ago, when I learned to weave, one of my first projects was a set of rag rugs made from strips of denim cut from worn-out blue jeans. The rugs were woven with colored cotton rug warp set at 8 ends per inch and the denim strips averaged approximately 1 inch wide. A header of cotton yarn was turned and hemmed at both ends of the rugs.

One rug was placed in a hallway; the other was positioned just inside the front door of my house, where for almost 25 years it received the dirt, mud and road grime from thousands of feet wiped on it before they entered the main room of the house. The hallway rug did not get quite as dirty as the door mat, but it was trodden on by just as many, or more feet, and eventually the warp threads frayed and broke. The denim strips frayed a little along the edges, but remained surprisingly intact as the warp threads deteriorated.

The exposed cloth strips started to become a safety hazard, so I decided the rugs must be replaced, but it seemed so wasteful to throw out so much fabric that appeared to have a lot of life left in it. I decided to wash the rugs and recover as much of the denim as possible, then re-weave it into new rugs. I put the rugs in the washing machine and sent them through three full wash cycles with detergent and a dose of washing soda. The frayed edges of the denim strips held up well through the washing and I hung the heavy rugs outside to dry.

When I brought the rugs indoors, I cut off the cotton headers, opened them up and recovered the cotton yarn to use again. I pulled the now scrunched-up denim strips out of the warp yarn and wound them directly onto a large stick shuttle. While the denim in the door mat rug is certainly clean after all the washing, many of the strips are just too stained and dirty-looking to use again. Still, I was able to recover 75-80% of the strips to reuse. Meanwhile, I had warped my loom with a red linen-cotton blend yarn, again set at 8 ends per inch and 28 inches wide. I wove a 3-inch header of cotton yarn, then started weaving with the now twice-recycled denim strips.

I wove one rug with recovered denim and another rug with strips freshly cut from old jeans. The twice-recycled rag rug doesn’t look as pristine as the once-recycled rug, but it will be a welcome addition on my concrete studio floor, where I hope it provides cushiony comfort under my feet for another 25 years.


Occupational Therapy Beats Holiday Stress

At last it’s January, one of my favorite months of the year! The holiday decor has been stashed away for another year and the marathon of shopping, cooking, entertaining and visiting is over and done for a while. The stores are calm and quiet now, in transition from glittery displays to resolute offerings exhorting us to exercise more and eat healthy.

Starting with Thanksgiving in late November through New Year’s Day, I spend an inordinate amount of time preparing, cooking and serving an abundance of fattening food. My household is tiny, but I still have to cook the full meal deal on Turkey Day, as well as bake cookies, breads and other sweets throughout the entertaining season.

Besides the holiday weight gain, a major downside for me is restricted time in my studio, where I would rather be weaving, sewing, dyeing, or planning new work. Fortunately, my rigid heddle loom comes in handy for small projects that can be completed relatively quickly. During the recent holiday period, I wove three scarves, using the oven time of baked goods to warp or weave a few inches. I would set the timer and then enjoy 30-45 minutes of rigid heddle occupational therapy before heading back to the kitchen.

img_4545

Last year I acquired a few ounces each of three rayon seed yarns in different colors. I used each of these as weft in a scarf, since I don’t want the bumpy seeds to struggle through the holes of the rigid heddle. For the warp, I selected yarns in related colors from my stash. I finished the last scarf just a few days ago, then wet-finished, ironed and trimmed the fringes on all three. What a great stash-busting and stress-busting exercise for the hectic holidays!

img_4539


Sewing with Handwovens

The weather is turning seasonably cold and wet here in the Pacific Northwest – perfect for indoor activities, like sewing something wearable from handwoven fabric.

I recently pulled out a length of yardage I made earlier this year from two silk yarns, of which I had almost two pounds each. They are both silk noil yarns, the kind of silk spun from short fibers, with a matte appearance and rougher texture, sometimes mistakenly called “raw silk”. In fact it is fairly soft and warm, but lacking the shine of reeled silk, it is less expensive. My warp yarn is a strong black bouclé and the weft yarn is a loosely spun turquoise thick and thin. I purchased the yarns long ago and forgot how many yards were in a pound, but I guesstimated the black was slightly more than, and the turquoise slightly less than 2,000 ypp.

Two silk noil yarns: black bouclé used as warp, turquoise used for weft.

My calculations predicted I could get around 6 yards of 30 inch wide fabric if I set the warp at 20 ends per inch and wove about 18 picks per inch. I wove plain weave fabric and got almost exactly the amount I expected! The yarn was dusty from sitting around so long, so when I washed the fabric, it brightened considerably. The combination of black and bright turquoise give the finished cloth a dark teal color, one of my favorites.

IMG_4512
Closeup of the finished fabric: the unevenness of the two yarns give a pleasing nubby texture.

I chose to make it up into a jacket using Vogue pattern no. 2915, a Koos van den Akker design that includes a lot of artsy appliqués, but I just like the simple shape of the jacket, so I made it unadorned with anything except pockets on the outside. To give the garment some reinforcing structure, I used a quilted lining. Bias-cut strips of thin black fabric finish the edges. The pattern calls for large buttons to close the jacket, but I thought slicing a buttonhole through the fraying handwoven, batting and lining would be courting disaster, so I went online to find some pretty metal hook and eye clasps to hold it closed. Check out Benno’s Buttons for more like these.

img_4501.jpg
The quilted jacket lining adds body and warmth; the metal clasps look nice without tearing up the fabric.

Stylish, warm and comfortable, from winter through spring!

 


 

Sun Printing with Transparent Fabric Paint

In late summer, I resolved to try sun printing with transparent fabric paint and compare the results to reverse-stenciling plant materials with fiber reactive dye. The latter can be frustrating if you want a lot of control over the reverse-image process. A breeze blows your plant matter aside, the dye drips and runs under the edges of leaves, flowers, etc. That lack of control doesn’t bother me – I feel like I am collaborating with an entity I barely know. I start with an idea of what image I want to make, but relinquish my expectations of the actual results. I am usually pleased with whatever result I get; it can be exhilarating if the effect is something I never imagined.

Some of my students have been hesitant to embrace a process that gives an unknown and unexpected outcome, so I wanted to try a method of reverse image-making that gives a modicum of control over the result. Transparent fabric paint can be used to create sun prints by applying the paint to fabric, then placing objects on the surface and letting sunlight “develop” the color and leave the resisted areas uncolored.

Putting to use the last sunny days of September, I gathered leaves, ferns and flowers, then painted some fabric samples. Setacolor, the fabric paint I used, is meant to be mixed with water. Two parts water to one part paint gives a pale shade, which leaves the fabric with a softer hand after sun printing and washing, but the contrast between color and reverse-image is very low. A ratio of one part water to two parts paint gives a much more intense color and higher image contrast, but the fabric feels thick and stiff in the end.

So, the upshot of the comparison between dye and paint: I encountered similar problems to the dye stenciling with the resisted images on the sunprinted fabric. You have to leave the fabric in the sun until it is dry, which can take an hour or more on a cool day. The wind blows the leaves around, they curl up and let light in underneath, creating a blurry mark, any wrinkles in the fabric create shadows in the final color, etc. And I really don’t care for the stiffness of the painted fabric. As to control over the final result, I think they are about equal. While I am glad I have tried both methods, I realize I am likely to be buying more fiber reactive dye and less fabric paint in the coming year.

IMG_4478
Leaf of mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) on linen painted with Setacolor light green.

IMG_4479
Oak leaves on linen with Setacolor.

IMG_4480
Maple and oak leaves on linen with Setacolor.

IMG_4485
Closeup of fern on cotton with Setacolor.

 


 

New Work from Old Fabric

Many years ago (don’t remember how many), I took a large piece of commercially-made linen/rayon fabric, cut it into four equal-size pieces, prepared each piece using different shibori methods, then dyed each one in indigo. The fabric was originally about 56 inches wide by 3 yards long; I divided it in half lengthwise and crosswise, so each piece ended up about 28 by 54 inches.

The first piece was a radiating series of lines of ori nui stitching, where you fold the fabric, then stitch along the fold and gather. The second piece was a radiating series of lines of a simple running stitch and gathering. For the third piece, I machine-stitched and gathered several rows, then left the remainder of the fabric unstitched, but hand-pleated and bound it with a rubber band at the end. Piece number four was hand-pleated in large folds then bound with a few rubber bands.

I dyed all the pieces in indigo, then tried to figure out how to combine all of them in a single garment design. They sat on a shelf and years went by. Every now and then I would take them out, sketch some design ideas, give up, and put them back on the shelf. This year it dawned on me I could make two garments of simpler design. I used an old Burda pattern (3221) and made one pullover tunic with the fabric pieces oriented vertically, and another pullover top with the pieces oriented horizontally.

Why didn’t I do this ages ago?

img_4459.jpg
Tunic front: radiating lines of ori nui stitching, gathered and dyed in indigo.

IMG_4461
Tunic back: radiating lines of running stitch, gathered and dyed in indigo.

IMG_4466
Top front: rows of machine stitching, gathered, and hand-pleating, bound and dyed in indigo.

IMG_4467
Top back: hand-pleated and bound, dyed in indigo.

 


 

One-day Workshop at Sitka Center Coming Summer 2018

Please join me for a day of colorful, messy fun on July 21, 2018 at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the beautiful Oregon coast. We will use natural objects such as flowers, branches, leaves and grasses as reverse stencils while we paint on cotton and linen fabric with thickened fiber reactive dye. Bring an apron and rubber gloves; I will provide all supplies and materials. We will mix our own colors from two blues, two reds, two yellows and black, using a technique which gives impressionistic results.

Select from a variety of projects including linen placemats and table runners, cotton bandanas, rayon scarves, or cotton pillow covers. Additionally I will have a bolt of Kona cotton, suitable for designing your own fabric for quilting, apparel, table linens, wall hangings, etc. The workshop materials fee includes $20 worth of product; more will be available for purchase at cost, so paint all you can in a day!

We will use brushes, foam rollers, sponges and spray bottles to apply the dye to soda-soaked fabric, then wrap in plastic to take home and “batch cure” overnight. The dye reaction will take place in the damp fabric over 8-24 hours at room temperature, then you will rinse and soap to remove excess dye and see your final results revealed. I hope to see you there!

IMG_4423
Linen placemat reverse-stenciled with sword ferns.

IMG_4421
Cotton bandana reverse-stenciled with flowers: daisy, chive blossoms, seed stalks of spent bluebells.

IMG_4424
Rayon scarf reverse-stenciled with evergreens: cedar, cypress, sequoia.

IMG_4453
Rayon knit scarf reverse-stenciled with feathers.

IMG_4470
Cotton T-shirt reverse-stenciled with Black Locust leaves.