A Paper Fabric Tote Bag

In my previous post on Shifu and Shibori, I posted a picture of a handwoven fabric whose texture reminded me of canvas – too stiff and coarse for clothing, but great for something utilitarian, like a bag. It turns out I have been in need of a carry bag for my rigid heddle loom for quite a while and the piece of shifu fabric had the perfect dimensions, 21 inches wide by 2.25 yards long, to create a bag for a loom sized like mine.

This fabric is woven with linen and cotton threads in the warp; the weft is paper plied with rayon. The hand of the fabric may resemble canvas, but the weave structure is not as tight and the fabric is not as strong as true canvas, so I decided to line the bag with some of my stash of old denim recovered from worn-out jeans. The denim lining will withstand the stress of the load of loom and tools the bag will hold, leaving the outer fabric to coast on its good looks alone. (Thanks to Judilee Fitzhugh for sparking that idea!)

I cut a large rectangle for the bag, two for the side panels, two for exterior pockets and two long strips for handles. I pieced the denim scraps together and cut that into rectangles of similar size. I added interior pockets for small tools, including two long, skinny pockets for stick shuttles or pick-up sticks. I used a jeans foot on my sewing machine to ride over the thick layers of fabric and lining, and used up two of my largest size machine needles in the process.

The used denim lining of the bag, with interior pockets.

The bag comfortably holds my folded loom and a variety of accessories.

Packed up and ready for class or workshop!

Shifu and Shibori

Several years ago I joined with a few other local weaving guild members in ordering some washi, or paper, yarns from Japan. My order included 3 yarns: a very thin all-paper yarn made from twisting and spinning a 2 mm wide strip of paper, a thicker yarn made from plies of paper and rayon, and a flat, ribbon-like strip of 2 mm wide paper wrapped with criss-crossing cotton and rayon threads. The goal was to weave shifu, or fabric woven from paper yarn.

While twisting and spinning the paper yarn does make it stronger, it is not usually recommended for use as warp yarn, because it will not often stand up to tension on the loom. Shifu is frequently woven from cotton or other fibers in the warp and paper yarn in the weft only. I used my paper yarns primarily as weft in a variety of projects: a couple of scarves with Tencel and cotton warp, one length of fabric with cotton and linen warp, and one with an overtwisted rayon in the warp to get a crepe effect.

Later, on the advice of another weaver, I did try warping with the flat, ribbon yarn, which was a little stronger than the other two. To my surprise, it stood up to the tension of my Baby Wolf loom, so I was able to weave a fabric of approximately 95% paper.

I had enough of the flat yarn to put on a warp 3+ yards long by 24 inches wide. I wove alternating rows of the thick and thin paper yarns for weft, and got about 2.5 yards of this fabric before running out of the paper weft. I wove the remaining 24 inches or so with alternating thick and thin rayon yarns. I took the fabric off the loom and separated the two fabrics by cutting between rows of machine zig-zag stitching. Having already woven and washed some other paper yarn projects, I fearlessly wet-finished, line-dried and ironed my paper fabrics. They held up beautifully! Then I wanted to dye them in indigo using shibori methods.

On a warm summer day, I got my indigo vat set up outdoors and did some folding and clamping for itajime shibori. I wet out the fabric bundles and dipped them in indigo numerous times for a dark shade and high contrast with the undyed portions. Then came the rinsing and soaping and more rinsing. Who would have thought that paper could withstand so much washing? Not me, but I was very happy to learn what a strong fabric paper can make. I dyed a few other shifu pieces as well that day, so now all my paper projects have indigo shibori patterns on them.

Now I am taking the next step: cutting and sewing the handwoven paper fabric into garments. I made the largest piece into a top using my favorite old Burda pattern (See my previous post New Work from Old Fabric). The fabric of linen and cotton warp with paper weft has a texture and hand very similar to canvas. This will probably be made into something utilitarian, such as a bag or table runner. I will have to ponder the other small pieces for inspiration.

Learn more about the time- and labor-intensive craft of creating handmade paper yarn and shifu: Susan J. Byrd has written a book and posted online videos about making paper yarn. Hiroko Karuno also has authored a book and articles, as well as videos, on making paper thread and shifu.


 

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.


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.

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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.

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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!

 


 

Handpainting Handwovens

Painting on fabric is something I have always loved to do, and in recent years I have tried it with pleasing (to me) results on my own handwovens. I weave yardage with white, light- or natural-colored yarn, usually, but not always, in plain weave. With thickened fiber reactive dye, I use brushes, rollers and sprayers to create abstract designs in bright colors on cellulose fibers, e.g., cotton, linen, rayon. If the yardage is of adequate size, I can sew it into something wearable.

Recently I completed two items made from handwoven and dye-painted rayon. One was woven with a seed yarn originally dyed in a pale sage-green color. The seeds are made during spinning from a shiny rayon thread that is plied and allowed to build up a little bump on another ply; the result is they look like reflective little beads. Another item I made was woven from white rayon yarn in a textured twill, dye-painted and fashioned into a long-sleeved tunic.

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The original sage-green colored handwoven cloth.

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Close up of the seed yarn making little beads in the fabric.

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Dye-painted fabric.

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Poncho made from handwoven and hand-painted fabric.

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Handwoven and dye-painted rayon twill fabric. That was a fun day!

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Top made from handwoven and dye-painted twill fabric.

 


Working with Woven and Dyed Panels

Another project involving woven panels. For this one I made two warps of a rayon/flax blend yarn. I folded the warps into packages, then bound each bundle tightly with plastic strips, and dyed in indigo, for an ikat-like effect. Thinking the weaving would go quicker if I dressed the loom with two similar warps, separated by a few inches, I threaded the loom with side by side warps about 8 inches wide and approximately 4 yards long. Live and learn – this did not hasten the process of weaving, which required throwing the shuttles separately on each warp for every row. I used a navy fine rayon boucle yarn for a textured weft.

This project is similar to the Mexican-inspired one, but I added enough extra warp for sleeves. I wove two long panels and 4 shorter ones: two for the center panels and two for sleeves. I folded over one short edge of the center panels and trimmed the warp ends to an inch. I just overlapped the long edges and zig-zagged with navy thread. The sleeves are made by folding one short edge on a 45° angle and stitching the other short edge to the folded portion of the long edge. See Virginia West’s A cut above: Couture clothing for the fibre artist for an illustration of the technique. The top is soft, drapey and comfortable, and will be cool for summer.

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Dressing the loom with two side by side warps.

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Weaving the separate warps with two shuttles.

 


 

Indigo Shibori Jacket: Handwoven and Dyed

A recently completed jacket made from cloth I wove and dyed over the last couple of years.

A few years ago I acquired some wonderful yarn on sale as a close-out. It is a blend of alpaca and Tencel, both of which are soft (and slippery) fibers. I wove a few yards – enough to cut and sew a jacket, but I learned what other weavers probably already know, which is that alpaca does not full like wool does when wet-finished. The fabric is fragile and unravels easily because alpaca, unlike wool, has no little scales reaching out to grab onto their neighbors. About a year or so after taking the fabric off the loom, I folded and clamped it and dyed it in indigo, itajime-style.

Another year on, I serged the edges of the pattern pieces as I cut them out, but if I pulled a bit too hard on the serger thread, that slipped right off too. I primarily used Vogue 8676, designed by Marcie Tilton, with elements from a couple of other patterns as well. I stitched every seam twice for strength, but that ended up perforating the cloth. This yarn was really meant for scarves and shawls, not tailored clothing. But I persisted toward my goal of a jacket, which I lined with Bemberg rayon, and fitted with snaps instead of buttons for closures.

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Detail of jacket collar, snap closures and lining.

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Detail of resist-dyed indigo on handwoven fabric.