As Christmas is approaching, I’ve finally embarked on making a scarf for a friend; my first project for someone else. It’s strange the effect it’s had on me, because suddenly I’m fussing over my selvedges and worrying about the evenness of the beat.
Possibly just because it’s a gift, but I suspect it’s also because this friend has crocheted me a number of household item over the years. I owe a craft debt!
So far, the scarf has gone well, but I’m still eyeing those selvedges critically…
I don’t know if this photo shows the colours all that well, but it’s a nice bright aqua and green, in a 3 shaft twill.
When I first decided on getting a rigid heddle loom, I was a bit worried that there wouldn’t be many patterns to weave with just two shafts. Then I came across handweaving.net and was pleasantly surprised at the number of two shaft/two treadle patterns that this wonderful free website has.
Scarily and excitingly, there are a bazillion more for 3+ shafts and treadles. You simply couldn’t weave them all in a lifetime I think!
So, if you’re comfortable with reading drafts and you are looking for inspiration, then check it out. The search function isn’t always perfect and some of the thumbnails are a bit teeny, but those are completely irrelevant quibbles in the context of what an amazing resource it is. I also love that you orient the draft to any of the corners so it doesn’t matter if you prefer your treadling order top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top.
One trick I would suggest though is to print the drafts in greyscale to get a full idea of how the pattern will look. It may just be a personal thing, but some of the colour combo’s get in the way of me really seeing the patterns.
When you get to the end of your piece of weaving, you have a few options for how you “finish” the non-selvedge edges. One of the commonest ways is to use hemstitch. This gives you a neat, regular stitch that holds your weft in place and creates little groups of warp threads that are perfect as a fringe or for creating tassels.
This is the best set of pictorial instructions I’ve seen, so go check them out if you’re not familiar with how to do hemstitch. I particularly like that you get to see the back of the hemstitching as well as the front. It’s one of the traps for new stitchers that a lot of these type of edge stitches are only ever shown on their prettiest side.
Mastering hemstitch is worthwhile, because it gives such a neat edge and one very useful for scarfs and shawls, but you can also do a simple overcast/whip stitch if you’re after a simpler stitch (it can look nice as a feature).
If you want to go a bit fancier though, there is also Italian hemstitch which is similar to “ordinary” hemstitch, but makes neat little squares.
Colour is important in weaving, because when you cross warp with weft, you start mixing colours.
The effect isn’t like mixing paint, of course, because you are creating separate dots/lines of warp and weft that sit next to each other, rather than blending. The result of this is more like a picture in a magazine (look closely and you’ll see dots of colour), or pixels on your computer/phone etc.
The main difference between dots and the blending you get with paint, is that the end result is created by the peculiarities of how the eye perceives colour. What do I mean by that? Well, a basic principle is that the closer you are more likely you are to see separate colours and the further away, the more they blend. Obviously that also depends a bit on how big the dots are.
Again, grab a page of a magazine and see how close you have to be to see the dots. Or if you don’t have one handy, here’s an example:
What does that mean for weaving? You should sample! Aside from all the other things sampling tells you, it will allow you to take the cloth off the loom and walk away from it to see what the colours you’ve mixed actually look like. Even more so with fluffy yarns, because the fluff gives a different, more blended, result and the fluffy yarn can dominate.
The good news is that you can count on one hand how many concepts you need to grasp to become a whizz at working with colour, and if you’re still not sure, you know you can sample.
What happens after you put a second heddle on a rigid heddle loom? The double weave calls to you!
Double weave is one of the more literally named techniques in that you weave two layers of cloth at the same time. Yes, you read that right – two layers of cloth!
Now, if you’re scratching your head and going “why is that exciting?” then consider this; it means you can double the width of the cloth your loom creates, and it means you can weave tubes or weave open and closed sections (pockets) like in this example of a shuttle holder from the Ashford’s double heddle instructions.
The thing about double weave is that it can sound really complicated when you read the instructions, but it’s not. What I found most useful for getting my head around it was when I saw an image like this:
The bottom shed is black and the top shed is purple and I’ve got both of them open so you can see how one sits above the other. When you weave you weave one set of threads at a time.
So, if you want to create a double-width fabric you use one shuttle and weave top layer / top layer / bottom layer / bottom layer. This means your weft joins the two layers together on just one side.
To weave a tube, you change the order to be top layer / bottom layer / top layer / bottom layer and your weft will join both edges.
You can weave two separate layers of cloth, by using two separate shuttles. To create pockets like in the picture above, you alternate two separate layers of cloth with sections where you treat your two heddles as one, to get a single layer of very dense cloth.
So, how does this magic happen? Each reed/heddle controls one layer of cloth, but you need 4 shafts (equivalent of an up-shed and a down-shed for each layer of the cloth) and that’s the reason for the pick-up sticks in the image of my loom.
You need to move the slot threads with pick-up sticks. This is because you need to get the slot threads for the layer you’re weaving away from the slot threads of the other layer, remembering on an RH loom only the threads in the holes actually move.
Obviously, on a multi-shaft loom you would just thread 4 shafts.
I’d say the only tricky bit of double weave is the threading, because you have to get the right threads in the front and back holes. And it’s easy to make mistakes. You can see here I crossed a bunch of my threads and this will stop you getting a shed.
I realise this post probably does make it sound complicated, but honestly, once you do it you’ll find it’s not really!
Of the various joining methods for introducing new yarn, the one I guess that is most usual is to just overlap the ends a bit on the next pick of weft.
I read a lovely old manual for a Schacht loom that talked about how best to do this and how important it was if you were entering your work in competitions! Apparently judges did/do judge harshly the “shadow” the slightly thicker weft makes at the point of overlap, so you were supposed to put it somewhere near the edge. Or somewhere inconspicuous I guess.
Their advice was to overlap enough yarn that you could – after taking it off the loom – pull the ends through, leaving a much smaller overlap. After finishing, you then trim the ends as close to the fabric as possible. Now I’ve only tried this technique with knitting yarns, but I have to say it gives a nice result. I can imagine it working even better with finer thread.
I’ve been in no hurry to put a second heddle on my loom, despite having bought the required kit, but after doing my two and a half shaft yarn-speriment, it seemed a good time to move to three. So, on went the double heddle kit and I chose to try my hand at twill.
Now the thing that I’ve been curious about with twill is it has a different drape to plain weave. In the spirit of research I decided to see how big a difference by doing my twill with the same yarns as my first scarf!
Now, I wasn’t scientific in my approach, so I ended up with more ends per inch than I’d used in the plain weave (and slightly fewer picks per inch), but the result was interesting. Hopefully this image captures that the plain weave is crisper/stiffer:
The twill is on the right and, despite being denser in e.p.i. terms, it is “softer”. The cotton and mohair yarns are the same in both.
As for weaving with 3 shafts, well, it was easy. The treadling order became a rhythm quickly and I was surprised I didn’t have to concentrate more.
As you’ll know from my bloopers post, I did eventually stuff up the order, but I blame that on having stopped to do some leno (a manually twisted weave):
That got me all out of rhythm. Still, it was also an interesting thing to try in a piece of twill.
At some point I’ll tackle a 4 shaft twill, but the next application of my two heddles is definitely double weave!
There are a couple of tension related weaving ills. For people with big looms I get a sense that the most common is breaking warp threads, but they also get what I’ve had on the rigid heddle loom; uneven tension.
The first time this happened I had a patch of squishy soft warp threads in the middle. I took that warp off and re-did it and decided the method I’d used for solo-warping really hadn’t worked that time.
One scarf I wove had a weird single squishy thread. I weighted it and it was fine in the weaving, but I have no idea why it was squishy. Poor lonely thread.
My pick-up stick sample had one thread that was too tight, but this only became apparent as I moved the warp forward. It got worse and worse until the final stretch of weaving had a distinct raised line in it. Again, I’m not sure what caused that little guy to be shorter than its friends.
In each case though, there has been trouble right at the start. A struggle to warp different threads on the same beam. Me dropping the whole lot and everything getting a bit tangly.
Though – following on from my bloopers comment about not weaving when tired – the worst warping I did was absolutely because I decided to dress the loom at midnight. Yeah, I know.
My advice, limited as it is on tension, is that if you see a warp problem early the least frustrating thing is actually to cut it off (or unweave) and start over. Maybe the next day. After a good sleep.
So this post is all about mistakes. Weaving presents a great ability to make mistakes, simply because a lot of the different types of mistakes will only show on the other side of the fabric; the side you can’t see without turning the loom over!
You’ll notice that I’m so sure there’ll be more mistakes to show in future, that I’ve marked this post as just #1? Well, that’s partly because of the kind of mistakes I’ve made so far – most I didn’t see at all until the cloth was off the loom.
Here are three bloopers:
On the left you’ll see some super long floats. This is the “back” of the scarf and the floats were caused be me screwing up my treadling order (the order I was lifting “shafts” in).
In the middle is a straight pattern stuff up, which I probably should have seen as this is the front of the scarf!
On the right is another back-of-scarf problem. This time the pattern got messed up because my shed wasn’t clean. As I ran out of warp my shed got a little messy and I ended up using a pick-up stick to tidy it up.
So, I think that another benefit of a rigid heddle loom is that you can turn it on its side and take a peek at the underside of the web. Now I just need to remember to do it before I wind forward!
Another thing I learnt (though really it’s just common sense) is to not weave patterns when tired.