Back and Forth

posted Jun 22, 2011, 3:57 PM by Mary Powell   [ updated Jun 22, 2011, 4:13 PM ]

Just like with spinning, weaving is a repetitive motion. So, I weave, and weave, and weave.

 Every three or four inches, I unwind a little warp off the back and roll the fabric up on the cloth beam (down near my knees). While this does interrupt the rhythm of the work, it also interrupts the repetitive nature of the activity and helps protect against injuries. Even so, I try not to weave for more than half an hour without stretching and rotating joints. Since I have the attention span of a grasshopper, it's usually not a problem.
Since this isn't very exciting in photo form, here are some gratuitous pictures of cute sheep:
These are Old English Southdowns, also known as Babydolls. They are another heritage breed that made it to America fairly early. They were originally bred to mow the grass in orchards, so they are less than two feet tall. These cuties are courtesy of  Bluegrass Babydolls in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

Weave Away

posted Feb 24, 2011, 1:07 PM by Mary Powell

With the warp threads separated, I can put a weft (sideways) thread in place. For convenience, the warp thread is wound on a spool or bobbin.

 The bobbin spins on a shaft inside the shuttle, allowing the thread to unwind with very little resistance. This style of shuttle is called a boat shuttle.

 The flipped up ends help keep them from catching on warp threads. Traditionally, shuttles were made of dogwood because it doesn't splinter. This shuttle was handcarved by my friend Michael out of spalted maple. It might not be entirely traditional but it is beautiful.

With one treadle down, I slide the shuttle between the two layers of warp.

A line of thread unwinds behind it.

I catch the shuttle on the other side and pull it out of the way.

Then I grab the hanging beater bar (or batten) and swing it towards myself, so that it thumps against the fabric.

Remember the reed that sits in the batten? In addition to spacing the threads, it packs the weft against the previous weft thread. Then I switch treadles, and beat again. By switching treadles, I bring the bottom warp up and the top warp down, crisscrossing them and locking the weft in place. The second beat packs the weft more tightly and lets the reed comb the warp threads, just in case any of them stuck together.
Now I throw the shuttle back the other way, beat, treadle, beat. And repeat. Each pass of the shuttle (or pick) lays down one thread. This fabric is ten picks per inch. After a while you get into a rhythm and learn just how hard you have to throw the shuttle. Too hard and it flies across the room. Too gentle and it stalls in the middle. Beat too gently and the fabric is floppy. Too hard and you waste energy. On this big, heavy loom, I use leg and torso muscles, leaning back to beat and sideways to throw, rather than use the more easily fatigued arm muscles.

Treadle to the Metal

posted Dec 16, 2010, 5:59 PM by Mary Powell

Everything is a mess at first as the threads spread out and find their proper places, so for the sake of my pride, I'm going to weave until it looks nice before showing you more pictures.
So, here is about two yards of cloth woven. Notice the path the cloth follows. It starts in the working space, travels over the apron beam, at an angle down to the cloth beam and is wound around the cloth beam. In this picture, you can just barely see the ends of the apron bar (horizontal--its a two-by-four) down on the cloth beam. Also note the two treadles (pointing forward), their just-visible ropes (vertical--tied to the harnesses), and the ropes and pulleys above the harnesses.

  So I sit down at the loom and slide my bench in close enough that I am actually leaning against the apron beam. Not everyone has to sit this close, but this a big loom.

Then I press down on one treadle. It doesn't really matter which one you start on. As the treadle goes down, it pulls one harness with it. Since the harnesses are connected too, as one treadle lowers, the other goes up. Hence, this type of loom is called a counter-balance loom. Remember all that work to thread the warp on the harnesses? This is why. With one harness down, every other thread is down. The other harness is pulling the alternate threads up. The warp magically separates into two layers of thread. This separation is called the shed. You can just see it here, in front of the reed.

See how the harnesses are separated as well? This loom doesn't have a very wide shed, meaning the space between layers isn't much. This reduces wear and tear on the threads, but increases it on the weaver.

Tension Headache

posted Nov 30, 2010, 10:06 AM by Mary Powell

Now that all the threads are in the right place, they just need some tension. I divide the threads into small sections, then just tie them around the apron bar.

 The apron bar is just a stick or board tied to the beam that the cloth will roll on to (the cloth beam) on the underside of the loom. The ropes from the apron bar run over the apron beam at the very front of the loom. The only trick here is keeping the tension even. I usually start in the middle and work out to the sides, then go back and tighten the middle bunches until they all have the same tension. It takes a little while, but is hard to mess up.

The loom is now dressed. We are ready to start weaving!

Reed Up On It

posted Oct 12, 2010, 11:41 AM by Mary Powell

We've already discussed sleying, but now I get to do it again. I set the reed in the beater bar (or batten), and using the sley hook just as before, pull each thread one at a time through each dent.

I have to make sure no dents are skipped (leaves holes in the fabric) and no threads are crossed (neither thread will weave into the fabric).

Since the handspun wool is at a premium, I am leaving the old threads tied on. This will save me eight inches of thread, but make it look untidy at the beginning. I usually trim the old thread off.

Tug of War

posted Oct 12, 2010, 11:31 AM by Mary Powell

Even though the threads are now all tied in the right place, they are still not run through the works of the looms. So the next step is to pull all the old threads through the heddles, drawing the new threads through after them.

Just work a little handful through at a time.
 It usually doesn't want to slide through easily,

but tug gently and the knots will pop through.
See how fuzzy the wool is compared to the cotton thread used previously.

I'm a little tied up right now

posted Aug 19, 2010, 9:12 AM by Mary Powell

With the warp on the loom, we need a way to control it. This is done by pulling the threads through little loops--heddles

on wooden frames--harnesses.

 The harnesses are then tied to peddles--treadles--which raise and lower them, thus raising and lowering the threads.
There are two ways of getting the threads in their proper places. If you are setting a loom up for the first time, or changing the order of threads, you sit in the front with a long hook and pull each thread through the proper heddle. This is made easier if you have a willing helper to sit at the back and hand the threads forward in the proper order. If you are using the same thread sequence as the previous project and/or lack a willing helper, just leave a length of thread from the last project run through all the heddles, then sit in the back of the loom and tie each new thread to each old one.
So, I climb inside the loom. That's right inside. No, you don't get a picture of that. I'm wearing skirts, remember? This is one reason the old looms were so big. You have to be able to get inside or lean over the back beam. It's more comfortable to sit inside.
Sitting between the harnesses and the back beam,

 I untangle the first new thread, and the first old thread,

 and tie them together.

That's it. No fancy knots, no patterns, just 450 little overhand knots.

Remember that cross we worried so much about earlier? That is how I tell which thread goes where. Told you it was important.


posted Aug 2, 2010, 2:05 PM by Mary Powell   [ updated Aug 2, 2010, 2:15 PM ]

We are finally ready to put the threads on the loom, or dress the loom. This is the most stressful part of weaving for me. It is also, apparently, the most fascinating to watch.
I gather up the spread warp, reed, lease sticks, and warp stick, and take it to the loom.

 The warp stick is slid into ropes, attaching it to the back beam, the reed is set in the beater bar, and the warp laid out in front of the loom.

At this point, the lease stick are in front of the reed. I need them to be behind the reed. So, my very patient helper pulls the warp taut, and I slide a wide, smooth slat in next to the first lease stick.

 Then, a second slat goes in next to the other lease stick, effectively taking their place separating the threads.

Then I untie and remove the lease sticks, and replace them behind the reed, using the slats to separate the threads appropriately. I apologize that the pictures are not more clear, but I was not able to stop and position for better shots. This lease transfer is the single most important step. If I drop one of those slats, or miss the threads, or even sneeze, I will lose the cross, and the threads will be irreparably tangled. I would have to start all over with new thread. Fortunately, that didn't happen.
Now my faithful helper, Charlotte, starts slowly turning the back beam, winding the threads on. I have the two bundles of threads in my hands, pulling them taut and maintaining even tension across all the threads. I start at the opposite side of the room, gather up the threads, making sure none are tight or loose, then walk slowly forward as Charlotte winds it up.

Both of us watch for any tangles, drooping or tight threads, and movement from the beater bar. The threads are sliding over the lease sticks where the cross guides them into their proper position.
When the warp is all on the beam, I cut the loop at the free end, pull the threads free of the reed and tie them into loose knots.


posted Aug 2, 2010, 1:33 PM by Mary Powell

With the warp measured out, it must now be spread out, or sleyed,  so that it will wind on to the loom evenly.
So, I lay the two chains out side by side.

Then I slide two long, smooth sticks through the cross of both chains, one before the tie, one behind it. Once the sticks, called lease sticks, are securely tied, the string holding the cross can be removed.

To space the threads evenly apart, I use a reed. This is a metal comb with a set number of spaces, called dents, per inch. I want ten threads per inch, so I use a ten-dent reed. In the old days, reeds were made out of tiny wooded slats or split pieces of reed or cane. I don't have one, and I can't get the woodworker to make me one, so I'm using a metal reed.
I untie the cross, and separate one thread from its fellows. Since the threads were looped around the pegs, it is, for our purposes, actually two threads connected.

Using a small metal hook, called a sley hook, I pull the thread through the reed. It is then looped around a stick to hold it.

Then the next thread is pulled through the next dent.

And so on and so on.

And we're done.

Warped Minds

posted Jun 13, 2010, 6:18 PM by Mary Powell

In this case, each thread will be ten yards long, and there will be 450 of them. Needless to say, it would be awkward to try to measure them out free-hand. Fortunately, I have this:

It is called a warping wheel. It's a yard to a side, so for my ten yards, I will wind the thread around in a spiral two and a half times.
I start by tying one thread to the first peg, then laying it around the other two. Note the arrangement of the pegs.

Then, I stretch the thread to the next upright,

 then the third, and so one until I have spiraled around two and a half times.

I now have one ten-yard long thread. Next, I loop the thread around a stick tied to the correct upright, then follow the spiral back down.

Once at the bottom, I have two ten-yard threads. To keep them in order, I wind the "down" thread on the opposite side of the pegs from the "up" thread, so that a cross forms. This cross keeps the threads in their proper order and will keep them from getting tangled during the beaming.

Then, I start back up, and continue until I have 225 threads wound. I tie a cotton thread through the cross to keep it secure, another around all the threads at the first yard, and another at the top to form a small loop. To take the warp off the wheel, I must bundle them up securely.

I slide the top stick out of place, and grab the end of the bundle of threads, keeping full tension on them. One hand slides through the end loop, grabs the bundle of threads, and pulls them though the loop.

Then I hold that loop and pull another through it.

Anyone who crochets will recognize this as the basic chain stitch, using my hand as a giant crochet hook. In fact, this is called chaining. The German word for warp is actually die Kette or "chain." I continue to the end, then slide the cross off the pegs.

This chain can be moved around without tangling the threads.

Repeat for the other half of the warp.

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