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.

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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!

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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.

 


Basket Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom

Recently, after successfully busting down my yarn stash, I felt I was due for a reward: more yarn! I cruised my favorite online stores and ordered a few pounds of interesting items. One that caught my eye was a “straw yarn” I found at Made in America Yarns. I love working with unusual cellulose fibers and had to try it, so I ordered two skeins. When they arrived, I realized I now have a lifetime supply – each skein was over a pound! I couldn’t get them on my umbrella swift, so I carefully placed the skein on a table and wound off 14 balls per skein with my ball-winder. This yarn is sproingy and hard to control so I put each ball in a mesh bag to keep it from unwinding itself.

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The skeins explode out of their packaging like a jack-in-the-box.

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One skein wound into 14 balls between 1.5 – 2 ounces each.

The “straw yarn” is actually paper raffia. Unlike true raffia which comes from a particular kind of palm tree, this is man-made to look and act like raffia, but is much softer and it is still a natural fiber. I did a burn test and got a gray ash with a smell of burning newspaper. It is very strong when pulled along the grain, so I thought it would stand up to weaving in the warp. Now how to get this stuff on the loom: I briefly considered weaving it on a floor loom, but decided threading the heddles and sleying the reed would be asking for punishment, so I tried warping directly onto my rigid heddle loom. Surprisingly, it was not at all difficult! Having no elasticity, the warp has to have a little more slack than I would prefer, but weaving went pretty well. I set the yarn at 12.5 ends per inch and wove a plain weave, which gives a slightly warp-faced textile. I think a 10-dent reed would be ideal, but we weave with what we have.

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The basket fabric on the rigid heddle loom.

My plan was to weave a basket in two pieces, each about 9 by 30 inches. I centered them by crossing at right angles and I stitched the two layers together in a square for the bottom of the basket. Then I folded the long sides up and stitched them together, folded the hem-stitched edges down and stitched them in place. The first basket came out rather shorter and wider than I wanted, but it makes a good storage container for the remaining balls of yarn.

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Stitching up the sides of the basket.

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Kitty approves!

The second basket is made of two pieces 8 inches wide. One is about 30 inches long, the other about 32 inches. I made the basket the same way as the first, but left a wider hem on the two longer edges and threaded leather strips through them for handles. My basket is now the size and shape I originally wanted and ready to carry my sneakers, towel, etc. to the gym.

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Ready for duty.

 


 

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.