Weaving with a Handspun Warp

A month or so ago, one of my weaving students, a spinner, gave me a zip-top bag with 8 smallish balls of handspun yarn. They are a mix of wools from different fleeces, bits of silk and rabbit hair and all are plied yarns showing off a variety of natural-colored neutrals, from pale gray to dark brown, with bits of blue, purple and teal showing up here and there. I wanted to weave them into a scarf, but I did not want them in the weft. I wanted to see the beautiful lengthwise stripes of the different colors in the warp. But wait, are we allowed to use handspun in the warp?

I don’t spin, but wish I did. I know only a little bit about spinning – for example, the difference between s-twist and z-twist, and how weaving yarns are spun more tightly to accommodate the tension of the loom. Handspun, being more loosely twisted and stretchy, seems destined for weft applications only. Yet I frequently read of spinners breaking the rules and using their handspun in the warp. If they dare try it, why not I?

The yarn in question is probably what would be considered “bulky” weight, not something I typically use. I decided I could not use it on my rigid heddle loom since I do not have a 5-dent reed. The 7.5-dent reed I have would seriously abrade and damage the beautiful handspun. I decided to weave the scarf on my Baby Wolf floor loom, using a 6-dent reed, which posed no risk to the yarn. The tricky bit was the metal heddles on the shafts. They really are a little too small to allow the yarn to smoothly advance. There was going to be some pulling to coax the yarn through them.

There was enough yarn to make a 2.75-yard long warp of 42 ends, for a 7-inch wide project at 6 ends per inch. That left 8 yarn remnants from .75 yard to 1.5 yards long, which I wound into little yarn butterflies. I warped the loom, noting the excessive elasticity of the yarn and hoped for the best. Keeping decent tension was difficult, to say the least. To show off the beautiful warp stripes to best advantage, I made a weft yarn of 3 strands of 10/2 Tencel and bamboo rayon, all in different shades of brown. The scarf wove up quickly in plain weave and whenever I needed to advance the woven cloth onto the front beam, I grasped the warp yarns with both hands, pulling gently and evenly to get it all through the heddles at the same rate.

I was able to weave fairly close to the end of the warp, minimizing waste and making for quite a long scarf; the woven part is fully two yards long! I wet-finished and trimmed the fringe, leaving one end longer than the other. A barely warm iron smoothed everything into place and now I can’t stop admiring it. Having always been attracted to bright colors, I surprise myself with how much joy I get from looking at grays and browns! And the texture is unexpectedly thick, soft and warm – perfect for a cold winter day.

The remnants amounted to only a few yards of handspun, which I decided to combine with a white and brown thick and thin wool yarn in the weft of another project. I chose a tweedy dark brown silk noil for warp and put another 7-inch wide project on my loom, this one set at 12 ends per inch. I wove blocks of all the different yarns varying in width from 1 inch to 2.5 inches with the white wool. After finishing, it is only 64 inches long excluding fringe, and it’s way too scratchy to be comfortably worn around a neck. It will make a fine little runner or dresser scarf.


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?

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

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

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

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

 


 

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.

 


 

Inspiration from Mexico

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!

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The two completed pieces to the left of the loom. One of the shorter pieces in progress on the loom. Slow going!

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Knotting and beading fringe.

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About 200 warp ends of fringe, knotted and loaded with beads for sparkle!