Every now and then I like to poke around on the web and look for news about prehistoric textiles. Because fibers decompose so quickly, they are very rare compared to prehistoric artifacts made of more durable stuff like stone, metal, or bone.
The oldest known textile fibers, microscopic ones from flax, came from Dzudzuana cave in the Republic of Georgia and date back more than 34,000 years. They were most likely not woven into cloth, but twisted into cord and rope for a variety of useful and decorative purposes. Fast forward almost 30,000 years to a point in time where humans were weaving threads into cloth on some sort of loom. Weaving yarn into fabric and using it for clothing was likely an innovation on the use of animal hides for warmth and probably followed from the weaving of fibers into baskets.
Several years ago I found a picture online of a pair of 3,000 year old wool pants, worn by a mummified man excavated from a tomb in the Tarim Basin in China. These pants have made the news again recently after a collaborative project by archaeologists, weavers, fashion designers, and others recreated the wool yarn, the woven cloth and the tailored pants designed for a horseback-riding nomadic warrior.
Quite a while ago (years, actually) I read an article online about weaving a V-shaped shawl in double weave. On a 4 or more shaft floor loom, you wove two separate layers for a distance, then joined them together in a V shape by cutting the warp threads of one layer and weaving them as weft across the other layer. The V was to cover your back and the two long parts come over the shoulders and tie in front. I bookmarked the article, meaning to get to that project some day, but the day never came.
Now recently I find that quite a few people have been posting articles and videos about weaving the V-shawl (or smaller cowl) in a single, not double layer. I was intrigued and started looking for how-to information. The quality of online instruction varies, but I did find a couple of postings that helped me understand how to proceed and they all use a rigid heddle loom.
The basic idea is to warp your loom, then leave a portion unwoven, wind that onto the front beam, then start weaving the scarf about 16 or so inches from the beginning. You weave to within 16 or so inches of the end, then unwind the cloth from the front beam and untie the knots on the front rod. You then bring the unwoven warp around to the right or left side and weave it across as weft. Simple, right? Simple but not easy, as I always say about weaving. Creating tension and weaving with a consistent beat is tricky, but luckily I found some good advice and will share that later in this post.
Most of the posts and videos describe the project as about 10 inches wide and 2.5 yards long, woven with DK weight wool yarn in a 7.5 or 8-dent heddle. The V shape portion of the cowl is roughly 10 by 10 inches and it is usually depicted as being worn in the front, not the back. The long circle of warp stripes can be twisted and worn around the neck for a warm and cozy winter scarf.
I made mine with rayon chenille in a 12.5-dent heddle. I have a cone of chocolate brown chenille and one of a variegated chenille dyed in rust, navy, purple and teal. I alternated stripes of the two yarns in the warp, then advanced about 20 inches before beginning weaving with the chocolate brown yarn as weft. I intended for the striped loop to be small, not long enough to twist around my head since I don’t like anything wrapped tightly around my neck. I intended it to drape in a U-shaped cowl which I wear in front, with the V in back.
I wove to within 20 inches of the end, then unrolled the part I had woven and untied the knots on the front rod. Slowly and with some difficulty, I found each successive warp end of the front and wove a row across the warp at the back end. The dark colored yarns, fuzzy quality and my rather poor eyesight made it hard to see, but I managed to weave the intersecting warps in a slightly flattened rectangle, which became a perfect square after wet-finishing. I am debating whether to make another one with a slightly longer warp, so as to loosely twist the drapey chenille scarf over my head, or just go back to the original idea of a wider shawl done in double weave on a floor loom. I would say I am leaning toward the latter.
Now for credit where it is due. I first read about this project in a post by Weft Blown. Then I looked for videos and found this very good one by Kari Fell. There are lots of other posts and videos out there, too many to mention, but I would like to thank my sources for their good information and encouragement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For quite a while now, I have had a few cones of chenille yarn sitting on my shelf, just waiting for my inspiration to transform them into something warm and wonderful. Earlier this winter I was working in my somewhat chilly basement studio and wished for a warm and attractive garment that I could wear while working and not have to change when I suddenly decide to dash out for a bite of dinner. I thought of the chenille yarn and pondered how to use it.
In my mind’s eye, I am still designing wearables with loom-shaped woven rectangles of fabric. I decided to make a pullover tunic top, or sweater, with primarily rectangular pieces that come straight off the loom, and zero to minimal tailoring. I sketched and planned and decided to use the 3-panel design I wove previously based on a Mexican huipil, although for this one I wanted sleeves and a cozy collar to keep cold drafts from blowing down my neck.
My design was simple enough: I needed approximately 6 yards of narrow 8-inch panels for the body and collar plus a bit extra for who knows what, and 1.5 yards of a wider panel for sleeves and who knows what. It’s always better to have a little too much finished fabric than too little. I decided to make the wider panel 12 inches wide. My chenille yarn is 2,000 yards per pound and I set it at 15 ends per inch so the finished fabric would have integrity and not slide and droop.
I chose the blue yarn, wound my warps and wove the narrow strip first. Six yards is a lot, but I just wove plain weave and it did not take long to complete. I wet-finished and line-dried the fabric, concluding with a final tumble in the dryer with no heat, just to soften it up. When I measured the cloth strip, my 6-yard length was there, but it was only 7 inches wide. I added another half-inch worth of warp to the wider strip and wove that at 12.5 inches wide. After finishing, I had 1.5 yards of 11-inch wide cloth. I decided to forge ahead with my design, resolving to shed a few extra pounds so the garment is not too tight a fit.
I cut the narrow strip into pieces: two 50-inch side front and back panels, one 19-inch center front panel and a 24-inch center back panel. I overlapped the edges slightly and used a decorative stitch to sew them together, but the fancy stitch is invisible in the deep fuzz of the chenille. I cut a 28-inch piece for a Mobius strip (one twist) collar and stitched it in place. That was a little too long for the opening, but I have to get it over my head, so I left a couple of inches to softly drape at the sides of the center front panel.
Now for the sleeves. I cut two 21.5-inch long pieces from the wider cloth strip and attached them to the side panel edges so they would form a square when stitched along the bottom, but this left the sleeves too short and in need of a gusset where they attached to the body. Out of the remaining 11-inch square of the wider cloth, I cut two small 5.5-inch squares for underarm gussets. The remaining piece of narrow cloth was about 40+ inches. I cut that into two pieces to extend the sleeve length, and made an angled seam in the larger sleeve piece so that the sleeve extension fit the sleeve edge.
Hooray! The finished garment fits over my head and around my body and is the soft and warm sweater top I imagined. After cutting and piecing, the project used up all of my woven strips except for a few very small pieces. I’m planning to use the rest of my chenille yarn in a couple of similar projects, perhaps for next winter.
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.
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.