Weaving Sakiori

Am I the only one who has had a lot of “free time” during the last few months of lockdown/stay at home/shelter in place, and done nothing much with it? I feel like I should have woven 1,000 yards of cloth and/or dyed hundreds of pounds of fabric by now, but I have had very little productive output during the last 7 months. Why has it been so hard to get and stay motivated?

So I’m not sure whether or not this is cause for celebration, but I finally took a project off my small floor loom after several months. Last March our weaving guild was going to offer a workshop on weaving sakiori, but it was canceled, like so many other events this year, when the pandemic ruled out travel and gathering indoors.

The finished project.

Sakiori is the Japanese term for weaving with torn or cut rag strips, as is done for making rag rugs. The word is a compound of “saki”, meaning to rip or tear and “ori”, meaning to weave. Sakiori is a way of recycling worn-out garments or fabric into new ones. You warp your loom with cotton or bast-fiber yarn, then weave the narrow fabric strips as weft. The new fabric can be fashioned into a new wrap, vest, jacket, etc. and is a way to extend the life of a treasured but time-worn item.

I had already done the preparation for the workshop by cutting two worn-out cotton yukata and one silk kimono-style robe into strips approximately 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch wide. They filled 3 bags and I did not want to wait another year or two for the workshop to be rescheduled, so I decided to teach myself sakiori. I obtained a copy of Weaving Western Sakiori: A Modern Guide for Rag Weaving by Amanda Robinette, and it inspired and encouraged me to get started.

Silk strips, cut approximately 3/8 inch wide.

Had the workshop taken place as planned, per the instructions, I would have threaded my rigid heddle loom with 10/2 cotton yarn at 20 ends per inch (using two heddles), and I would have started with the strips from the cotton yukata. But since I was going to work at home alone in my studio, I opted to use my small floor loom. I decided to work with the silk strips, so I threaded the loom with 10/2 and double-stranded 20/2 Tencel yarn for its luster and softness, and put on a little over 3 yards of warp. I alternated a light blue 10/2 Tencel thread with two strands of 20/2 Tencel in red violet and blue violet. The silk fabric had been dyed, stamped and printed in those shades as well.

Tencel warp and silk strip weft on the loom.

The book recommended alternating strips of rag weft with two picks of yarn between the strips. Using 2 picks of the light blue 10/2 Tencel yarn in between the rag strips in the weft produced an interlacement alternating between the two warp colors, which I found to be a pleasing effect. It was slow going, splicing the strips together, and I only managed to weave a few hours per week. I had to take occasional breaks to weave a (yet unfinished) project on my big loom, as sitting and using my body differently at the two looms prevents over-straining certain bones and muscles.

Light blue 10/2 Tencel yarn, and double strand of 20/2 Tencel yarn in violet shades.

Finally, after countless months (no, 7 months to be honest), I wove as far as I could and then took the project off the loom. Before wet-finishing, I knotted the fringe and machine-stitched all the edges of the piece because it felt slightly unstable. I soaked and dried it, ironed it on the silk setting, and now I have to figure out how I will make it into something new. I think I actually need another piece so I can make something with sleeves, and I have plenty of silk strips left over. Maybe a year from now I will have a completed vest or jacket to write about. Wish me luck.

Close up of alternating blue and violet warp threads over silk strips.