My holiday rigid heddle weaving project was a scarf woven of shiny rayon, sequins and lurex. I picked up the little hank of space-dyed sequin yarn at our guild’s Weftover sale in November. I wove the sparkly project in the darkest time of winter when we celebrate with various festivals of light, looking forward to the return of sunlight and longer days.
At first I thought I might be able to weave with the sequins in the warp, using a 7.5 dent heddle on my loom. The spaces are wide enough, I thought, to allow the sequins to pass through using only a very gentle pressure with the heddle. Nope! As soon as I tried that, the sequins started popping off.
I re-warped the loom with shiny rayon and sparkly lurex yarns set every half-inch, and decided to weave the sequin yarn in the weft every half inch, making a sort of sparkly grid set on a shiny red background. The space-dyed gold, green, turquoise and chocolate brown areas of the sequin yarn made random streaks of color as the red portions of weft matched the red warp yarns. In between my holiday obligations, I wove the scarf when time allowed and finished it some time in January.
Even as we have now passed the halfway point of winter (Groundhog Day), and the days are noticeably lengthening ever so slightly, Portland had its fifth annual Winter Light Festival this past weekend in early February. I visited the brilliantly lit installations along our downtown waterfront in between rain showers. What better event at which to shine with a bit of my own winter light?
Weaving double weave, or two separate woven layers, on a rigid heddle loom has been studied, written about in books, and demonstrated extensively in online videos. It need not be very difficult, but it is more time-consuming than executing the same technique on a multi-harness floor loom.
My students have been asking for a class in using double heddles on the rigid heddle loom, which is something I do a lot, to create a double density sett in order to weave with finer yarn. They also want to learn to do double weave on the rigid heddle. This is not something I typically do, since I have floor looms for weaving complicated structures. But I figured I should make a double weave sampler so that I can instruct my students in this technique with some degree of competence. The basic technique requires two heddles and two pick up sticks.
For my sampler I used two 7.5 dent heddles for an overall sett of 15 ends per inch. I warped my rigid heddle loom by tying a red and a blue yarn together and drawing loops of the doubled yarn through the slots of one heddle. I threaded this heddle by moving one of the red yarns from each slot to an adjacent hole. I moved that heddle to the back heddle position, which would weave the red layer on the bottom. I put my second heddle in the front heddle position and threaded one blue yarn in a slot and one blue yarn in a hole of this heddle. The red threads pass through another slot; the next blue yarn goes in the same slot as the red threads, and then a blue yarn goes through the next hole. The blue layer (threaded on the front heddle) is woven on top of the red layer (back heddle).
Each layer requires two sheds: for the lower layer, one is made with the heddle in the down position; the other shed is made by a pick up stick under the back heddle/red slot threads. The upper layer sheds are made with the front heddle in the up position alternating with a pick up stick under the blue slot threads. The two sticks are positioned between different layers of warp, so they can both be shoved to the back of the loom when not in use, and they can move forward independently without interfering with each other.
The heddle sequence is 1) Red pick up stick, 2) back heddle in down position, 3) front heddle in up position, 4) Blue pick up stick. I followed the steps in The Weaver’s Idea Book, p. 203, by Jane Patrick, who surely gives clearer instructions than I am doing here.
My sampler has three sections. The first (lower) section is the two layers woven completely separately and open on both sides.
The next (middle) section is closed on one side and open on the other. One portion of this section is woven with two interlocking wefts, so the front and back are separate colors. Another portion is woven with one (red) weft. A piece woven like this could be opened out like a book, forming a double width fabric.
The final (top) section is closed on both sides and open at the top edge, so it forms a pocket.
Some time ago I wove a double-width wool and mohair blanket or throw on a 4-shaft floor loom. The width on the loom was 30 inches, so it opened to a 60 inch wide blanket. It was done in plain weave, with one layer woven on shafts 1 and 2; the other layer woven on shafts 3 and 4. All woven in solid black, no pick up sticks were required. It does not photograph well, so just imagine a large and cozy black rectangle. If I wanted to do future double weave projects, this is most likely the way I would go.
Another double weave project that I wove on a floor loom had designs created by picking up lower layer threads with a pick up stick, while 4 shafts wove the ground cloth. To create this on a rigid heddle loom would require at least 2 more pick up sticks: two to work the two layers of ground cloth and the other two to pick up the contrasting design. It was slow work on the floor loom and it should go without saying this would be a very slow process on the rigid heddle.
I realize I am fortunate to be able to choose the right tool for the job, and I believe the multi-harness loom is the better choice for double weave. But for the space- or budget-challenged, a rigid heddle loom can be a workable option. Take advantage of the many books and videos that will help you choose the right job for the tool you have, and keep on weaving!
One of the things I love about my rigid heddle loom is its simplicity. Its primary strength is its ability to make beautiful plain-weave cloth rapidly and easily. Plain, or tabby weave, is when a weft yarn crosses over one warp yarn, under one warp yarn, across the width of the fabric, just as you would do to make a lattice pie crust. If you like to create visual interest in handwovens by varying the order of colors and textures of yarn, and complete a project in less than a day, you can hardly do better than to warp and weave on a rigid heddle loom.
I weave with double heddles for a double-density sett with finer yarns on my loom, but I still am weaving plain weave. Both heddles go up for one shed, both heddles go down for the other shed. But after producing dozens of plain-weave scarves, table runners, pillow covers, etc., the thought comes creeping: “What other structures might I be able to create on this loom?”
My library of weaving books and videos is full of advice on how to make a rigid heddle loom act like a 4-shaft loom, but the process always seems so complicated! Weave with 3 heddles, or use multiple pick-up sticks, or add heddle rods. If I want to do a complicated weave structure, I have floor looms for that. I want an alternate weave structure I can create with just the two heddles I already use.
After poking around on the internet, I found an answer: twill weave, but specifically 2/1 twill. The salient feature of twill is its pronounced diagonal lines created by small floats of yarn crossing over two or three yarns in the web. Having first learned to weave on floor looms with a number of shafts that are multiples of 4, I tend to think of twill as a balanced 2/2 twill or an uneven 3/1 – 1/3 twill. A 2/2 twill means a weft thread goes over two warp yarns, under two warp yarns, with each new row offset by one warp thread. A 2/2 twill looks the same on both sides of the fabric and the diagonal lines form a 45° angle.
Denim, used for blue jeans, is typically woven in a 3/1 twill, whereby a weft thread crosses over 3 warp threads, under one warp thread on one side of the fabric. The other side of the fabric is a 1/3 twill, with the weft crossing under 3 warp threads, over one warp thread. Denim is made with indigo-dyed warp and white weft, so the two sides of the fabric look different. The “right” side shows more indigo warp floats, the “wrong” side shows more white weft floats, and the diagonal lines frequently form a 30° angle.
Now, back to the 2/1 twill that can be woven on the rigid heddle loom with only two heddles and no pick-up sticks or heddle rods. With the help of my internet sources and some mental gymnastics performed during wakeful hours late at night, I realized I could thread the loom at 1.5 times the density of a single heddle in a 2/1 threading. One third of the warp threads go through the holes of one heddle, another third go through the holes of the second heddle, and the final third of warp threads go through the slots of both heddles. Any shed made with this threading is always 2 against one – plain weave is not possible with this threading.
This picture shows the three groups of warp threads. Top layer goes through holes in back heddle, slots in front heddle. Middle layer is threads in slots on both heddles. Lower layer is threads in slots on back heddle, holes in front heddle. Each shed is made by opening one layer away from the other two.
This 2/1 twill is woven in a 3-heddle sequence: 1) one heddle up, the other in neutral, 2) the second heddle up, the first in neutral, 3) both heddles down, making the loom act like a 3-shaft loom. This fabric is weft-dominant on one side and warp dominant on the other, just like the denim fabric, but with the diagonal lines forming a 60° angle.
I wove a scarf with the weft-dominant side facing up on the loom, warp-dominant side facing down for the whole length of the project. The two sides of the fabric appear quite different from each other. Next, I wove a scarf with alternating sections of weft-dominance and warp-dominance. To achieve the alternating pattern, I modified the 3-heddle sequence to 1) one heddle down, the other in neutral, 2) the second heddle down, the first in neutral, 3) both heddles up. I also reversed the sequence to get a zig-zag pattern of diagonal lines.
The scarves pictured above were woven with a straight twill threading, i.e., 1-2-3-1-2-3. I wanted to see if I could thread the warp in a point twill: 1-2-3-2-1. The answer is Yes! I wove the scarf below with one 3-heddle sequence to achieve a pattern of diamonds on the weft-dominant side (blue) and another sequence at the opposite end of the scarf which created little elongated ovals on the warp-dominant side (red).
The lesson learned is that the versatile rigid heddle loom can do more than one simple weave structure. Let’s hear it for twill!
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 bag comfortably holds my folded loom and a variety of accessories.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Almost a year ago I attended the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico. I learned a lot, ate well and visited many beautiful and fascinating places, but I did not come home with any Mexican textiles. Not that I wasn’t tempted; there were vendors selling gorgeous textiles everywhere: in the markets and on the streets. The day I left, two other symposium participants stood next to me in line at the airport. I checked my tiny suitcase that I could have carried on board, but for the contraband packed within (a bottle of mezcal). They were shocked that I could leave Mexico without buying anything, even for gifts, if not for myself! But I have too many textiles already, and I keep making more. So I came home with ideas, not things.
We were in Mexico just a week after our 2016 presidential election – like the rest of the civilized world, Mexico was not pleased with the result and consequently the peso dropped against the dollar temporarily, giving us a beneficial exchange rate. I tried to leave some of my good fortune behind by tipping generously and giving money to beggars. The ideas I brought home are starting to manifest slowly. My first one is a variation on a Mexican huipil; by no means authentic in any way. It was simply a starting point for a design.
I wove this (slowly!) on my rigid heddle loom with two heddles and yarn set at 25 ends per inch. The warp yarn is 8/2 Tencel and the weft is 10/2 Tencel. I wove two pieces approximately 49 inches long and a few inches of fringe. Two more pieces are approximately 19 inches long. I centered the shorter pieces with an opening for my head, then stitched the garment into a rectangle with openings for my arms. The seams on Mexican huipiles are covered with bright embroidery thread; I overlapped and topstitched the pieces with contrasting thread and a decorative stitch on my sewing machine. I left about 6 inches of fringe at center front and back, and added beads as I knotted the fringe. I thought it was elegant enough to wear to a party a week ago!