Deploy the string heddles!

A have a whole lot of weaving drafts that have the words “wacky threading” in the title. Because that’s how I warn myself that however pretty the pattern is, getting it on the loom will require mental gymnastics and, probably, string heddles.

Case in point: my most recent project. I’ve mentioned it a few posts back, but I thought it was worth a more detailed look at how I do these kind of patterns – ones with varying sized bunches of threads on one shaft – on a rigid heddle loom. Because that’s the thing… on a bigger loom the threading wouldn’t be wacky at all. It’s the “rigid” part of rigid heddle that creates the challenge.

In this pattern I had a warp that essentially had sections of plain weave, basket weave and… whatever you call groups of triple warp ends…on one shaft. Ditto the second shaft.

Option 1 is to use a reed meant for double the yarn size, so the basket weave (two warp ends together) keeps its normal spacing. Means you get a bit of an airy weave in the plain weave (single warp end) areas and crowding in the triple warp end areas, but that might settle out of the cloth when you full it, depending on your yarn. It usually means that your floating selvedge – generally a must with patterns – will be on a wider spacing than is ideal, too.

diagram of option one
blurry diagram of option 1

Option 2 is to ditch the reed and use string heddles and/or a pick up stick. This removes all spacing issues. Though it introduces a bit of a beating issue and your threads may twist/cross as you work. The first of these can be solved by having a reed – using only slots – though this can lead to lines where the heddle creates gaps between warp threads.

diagram of option two
blurry diagram of option 2

I went with option 2 because I was planning on working with wool and so didn’t think the open/crowded spacing would wash out. And I did leave my reed in place for beating.

The trick is to do a few other things to get around the problems a slot-only, string heddle solution introduces…

      • run two rows of plain weave, using scrap yarn and a needle, just in front of the back beam, to keep your threads from twisting (as you wind forward, wriggle these to the back so they don’t squish your shed)
      • whether you use one string heddle or two, use pick up sticks to make your shed every time (i.e. just use the string heddle to insert the stick), as this gives you a bigger, cleaner shed and is easier on your body!
      • whenever you insert a pick up stick, insert a strip of card into the shed at the fell line to check you haven’t missed any threads (if you have, check you haven’t broken a string heddle)
      • use your reed to beat, but have a needle handy to reposition any warp threads that are developing a gap

And, of course, if you’re using one string heddle and one pick up stick, then remember the string heddle needs to sit between the reed and the stick or you won’t be able to push the stick to the back beam and lift your string heddle.

With floating selvedges, remember not to include them in your string heddle/s!

Weaving patterns #7 – Supplementary warp

I got interested in supplementary warps almost as soon as I got weaving! It’s such a cool way to add texture to your cloth and the possibilities are almost endless. So what is a supplementary warp?

Well, it’s where you take a yarn and add it to the warp yarn you’re already using. Typically it will be some combination of different colour, weight or texture. Here was my first go at it, with a fantastic thick/thin yarn (Pixie Dust) from Knit College:

A thick/thin yarn in shades of gray overlaying a dark grey cloth
It’s a little hard to see but for this scarf I ran the thin sections of the yarn over and under the cloth so the supplementary warp is on both sides!

The trick with weaving using this technique is to warp the supplementary yarn separately and – unless you have a second back-beam – that means weighting it. This is how I’m tackling a current sup’ warp project:

Yarn dangling from the back beam, weighted with metal washers
Metal washers to the rescue!

Of course if you’re using a different colour of the same yarn as the warp then you can just warp it with the rest, but the fun of this technique is mostly in the crazy yarns I think!

In my first project, because I was moving the warp under and over the web, I actually didn’t weight it. Instead, I pinned it to the fell line each time it crossed over/under to achieve a small amount of tension. The result of this is that the thick sections have a lovely bit of slack so they can move with the cloth.

For the current project, because I’ve threaded the Noro yarn through the heddle, the weights are keeping it under an acceptable amount of tension. I do occasionally give each one a little tug (gently!) too, but obviously the Noro Silk Garden will drift/snap under not much tension at all, so I’m being careful.

In this case, the Noro is also my weft and the affect I’m after is far more subtle than with the Knit College yarn. Keep an eye out for pictures of the finished project!

Weaving patterns #6 – distorting with floats

A while back I spent a week playing with the different patterns that floats can give you, but one I didn’t tackle back then was honeycomb. Partly because this one really needs some extra shafts (you can do it with pick-up sticks, but the pattern changes often) and I was just looking at pick-up sticks.

The beauty of this type of honeycomb is that by alternating the position of weft and warp floats you distort the web/cloth slightly and this creates lines in the plain weave sections. Now I did too narrow a sample to really show it (I was obsessed with using up thrums on this!), but you can see the diagonal lines forming between the weft floats…

small sample of honeycomb weaveAny weaves that use floats to distort the cloth, work best if you use a heavier yarn to highlight the pattern. In honeycomb that means using a heavier weft (which I didn’t do) so that the “cells” have an outlined appearance.

So what other weaves use floats in a similar way? Well, you can also “deflect” or “bend” warp threads to create curves. Called deflected warp it again works best when the warp to be deflected is a heavier yarn:

sample of deflected warpHere, when the floats shrink in the wash the tug the warp in different directions and pull the warp threads into shapes.

That is another thing to note about these woven patterns; they don’t show until you take the cloth off the loom and increase in strength after washing. So don’t panic if they look uninspiring while under tension on the loom!

Getting started with tablet weaving #4

Like loom weaving, tablet/card weaving has a shed into which you pass the weft. The shed is formed by the gap created between the top two threads and bottom two threads in each card.

diagram showing a tablet and shed

Now here we are looking at the shed from the side and I’m showing just one card for clarity. The weft is passed through the gap in the threads closest to the weaver.

If you’re a loom weaver, you’re probably thinking that this is all fairly familiar and that’s right. The principle is the same.

But what happens when you rotate your tablet/card? Let’s look at that:

diagram showing the shed change in tablet weavingYou can see the threads that make up the top and bottom of the shed change slightly as the holes in the card/tablet are rotated. So in the first image the top of the shed is made up of the threads from the D&A holes. After the tablet is turned, the top of the shed is made up of the threads from the A&B holes.

Getting started with tablet weaving #3

Now I probably started these posts on tablet/card weaving backwards and this should possibly be the first thing I should have covered… but well, I started with the practical set-up stuff first instead!

This post is about the basic concept of tablet weaving, which is that turning the cards causes the warp threads to twist around each other like you’re making cord. By pushing a weft thread in place between turns, the weft is captured and held in place by the twisted warp.

The twisty nature of it is what makes it a different way of weaving. It also means it is largely warp-faced (the weft is hidden by the warp) and dense because of the twists.

The quirk of this style of weaving – at least to this weaver! – is that I think you can grab some cards/tablets and a set of instructions / pattern and just get going. Of course there’s a lot more you can learn about how it all works, but it struck me as being dead simple to get started with!

Getting started with tablet weaving #2

There are a few different ways you can warp your tablets/cards, but it doesn’t hurt to thread one card at a time and get a feel for working with the four holes and your colours.

If you are warping for a pattern, remember to keep the colours in the right order as you move around the holes in the tablet (e.g. black, black, red, red), but remember that you can rotate the card at the end to ensure the right colours are at top and bottom. Essentially it’s the order that matters when you warp!

You can start with as few as eight cards/tablets, but many patterns ask for more.

Once you’ve warped, you need to adjust the cards in two directions. Two cards/tablets warpedFirst which card are angled to the left or to the right (more on this in a future post). Generally you want at least the outermost card on each side to angle a different way to the ones in the centre. Two is even better, but obviously that depends on how many cards you’re working with.

Why do this? Well, it stops your finished weaving from twisting in one direction.

Then you might need to rotate them toward or away from you to get the colours you want on the top. If you’re doing something simple, like a stripe, you can just align the cards so two of the same colour appear in the top two holes, but you might offset them to create chevrons, or something even more fun!

This is your starting position.

So, once you’re all lined up and you’ve got the ends of your warp tied and under a bit of tension, you can pull those tablets down toward where your hands are and start to weave!

Now, in tablet/card weaving the cards will all be edge-on like in this picture here. Tablets in position ready to weaveThe shed is made by the top and bottom holes closest to you and it’s always a good idea to clear the shed with your fingers before passing the weft.

You can tie your weft thread into a little butterfly if you don’t have a shuttle and, like in any loom weaving, you just pass it through the shed and then you change the shed. I beat after changing the shed, because the shed is quite open so the weft can spring out again otherwise! diagram showing card rotation

To change your shed, you rotate the cards a quarter turn away from you.

This means the hole that was on the top, closest to you, moves to being the hole on the top at the back. (In the diagram A would move to D’s position.)

In coming posts, I’ll talk about how the shed change works and how the angle of the cards affects the direction your threads are twisting in – yes there will be diagrams! Before that though, there’ll be a short post just on the way that tablet/weaving captures the weft (that’s a nice easy bit).

Getting started with tablet weaving #1

In some ways, tablet weaving is the simplest thing in the world, because you just need some yarn and a set of tablets/cards. You can tie the ends of your warp to pretty much anything and you don’t need a shuttle for your weft. You don’t even have to buy cards/tablets if you have a hole-punch and some cereal boxes.

Your tablets/cards should look like this:

a threaded weaving tablet
My tablets are about a 5cm square (2 inches)

And they shouldn’t be too small or too large, but there’s a fair range of usable sizes. You need to be able to turn them comfortably and you don’t want your shed to yawn too wide, but online I’ve seen them as big as a DVD (actually made from a squared off DVD/CD) and as small as a credit card.

What you do want is to have them as smooth as possible. You don’t want the holes or the edges snagging or cutting your yarn/thread.

Next you need to pick something to tie one end of your warp to – remember it’ll need to hold position under tension – and traditionally the other end would be tied to your belt while you stand/sit and weave.

Choose some yarn. You can use almost anything from sewing thread to chunky wool, but to see what you’re doing clearly and get used to turning the cards/tablets, it’s probably a good idea to start with something like a 4 ply knitting yarn.

Then you warp.  I’ll cover this in the next post!

Observations on hemstitching

The more things I’ve woven the more I’ve found hemstitching frustrating. Mind you, also the more I’ve liked the end result!

So the frustrating part is mostly working out which side to put the verticals on and which side the diagonals.  Not a big deal for plain yarns but with variegated yarns and colour patterns you need to put some thought into it – sometimes even just giving it a go.

Of course this means – often – that you’re not only doing the hemstitching “back to front” but “upside down” if you’re stitching the front edge of your web on the loom. Poor brain doesn’t much like this!

However, a lovely tidy even hemstitched edge is kind of wonderful.

Adding pick-up sticks to double weave

So, in my previous posts on double weave on a rigid heddle loom I’ve talked about having two pick-up sticks in use and that you use one when weaving the lower layer cloth and the other when weaving the upper layer of cloth. What I haven’t detailed is how you get them in position!

It’s pretty simple and is exactly like the first two steps I outlined (with pictures) in setting up string heddles:

  • After you’ve dressed the loom, drop both rigid heddles down so you can clearly see the slot threads
  • Use a pick-up stick to select the slot threads you need – in this case the slot threads for your top layer of cloth

That’s your first stick in place.

Then put both rigid heddles in the up position and pull the first pick-up stick toward the heddles. This will make a lower shed (behind the heddles) and you just pop your second pick-up stick into that shed.

Remember the top stick is used when weaving the top layer and the bottom stick is used when weaving the bottom layer. Both sticks are pushed to the back beam when not in use.

Threading double weave

Threading four shafts on your loom for double weave is different from threading a four shaft pattern, because in double weave two shafts weave the top layer of your cloth and two shafts weave the bottom.

The most immediate difference is with e.p.i., as only half the warp ends are used for each layer – i.e. if you threaded your loom at 12 ends per inch you’d have 6 ends per inch in each layer of cloth. In other words you use double the sett you normally would for that yarn.

On a multishaft loom you need to watch how you thread and watch which shafts are raised and which lowered so the two layers of cloth don’t get caught together.

On a rigid heddle loom (I think) sett is simpler for double weave. Why? Well using two rigid heddles to get 4 shafts means you automatically double your sett, so the fact you only use half the e.p.i. on each layer cancels out the initial doubling! In other words, you just use rigid heddles of the size you’d normally use for that yarn.

Using two rigid heddles also means you can clearly see your treadling – one rigid heddle will go up to weave the top layer and the other will go down to weave the bottom layer. The two pick-up sticks, that allow you to move your slot threads, are also easily seen to belong to the upper or lower layers as one is literally on top of the other at the back of the loom.

Threading is probably where the rigid heddle is more brain-bending / eye-straining, but after having done a few double weave threadings now, I’ve got a system that works for me…

Begin with four warp threads in each slot; two each for your upper and your lower layers (see the left hand diagram below). If you warp directly onto the loom, you’ll probably do this first step then, but if you use a warping board, simply see this as stage one of threading.

You then take one of the upper layer threads out and put it through the front hole to the right and take one of the lower layer threads out and put it through the back hole the left (shown on the right below).

diagram showing threading for double weave on an RH loom
Here I’ve got blue threads for my bottom layer of cloth and red for the top layer

As I continue threading, I treat each group of four threads as though they exist in isolation – ignoring all the other threads. In the end, it will look like this:

double weave threading on an RH loomAdd your pick up sticks and you’re ready to go!