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!

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Christmas excitement isn’t the only thing catching…

I’ve had a whole week tucked up in bed with angry tonsils and a cough, too exhausted to type. So, if this post isn’t full of Christmas cheer, I hope you will understand!

Strangely, despite being so tired, I did manage to do some weaving. Not much, but the project I was working on was small and pretty well suited to low energy levels. I was making a hand-towel…

Creating yarn loops with a crochet hook and a knitting needle for a towel

This is the towel in process. You can see my lovely bamboo crochet hook which I’ve used to pull loops of caramel coloured cotton through the black cotton warp and onto a knitting needle.

Now, I didn’t use a pattern for this (I know, you’re surprised), but after some thought I decided that I’d:

  • use an 8ply cotton as my plain weave base, on a balanced but slightly open weave
  • use a finer cotton for my loops
  • do a pick of the 8ply in the same shed as each row of loops
  • manually give each pick a bit more of a beat after changing sheds (did that with a darning needle, but something like a tapestry hand-beater would have been useful)

I’ll admit that my selection of knitting needle was more of a “that looks about the right sized loop” type decision. And, yes, the selection of needles that were close at hand may have influenced me!

So, for all my slap-dash experimentation, how do I feel about the finished product? I’m very happy with it. The density of loops is lusciously soft and thick, and the caramel looks lovely against the black. I wove a little tag at one corner to make a hanging loop and it hangs rather nicely, too.

Of course, I won’t know how it goes functionally until wet hands have used its drying services. I will report back on that and provide a photo of the finished hand-towel.

Actually weaving

So, your loom is set up and you’re ready to go. Now what?

The first thing you do is to open a shed so you can pop some scrap yarn in as weft, and then an alternate shed so you can do another pick of scrap yarn. You will start to see your warp threads even out (they’re usually bunched from being secured at the cloth beam). Note: you can also use paper/ card strips to do this.

Now you’re ready to start your pattern, so you grab your shuttle/s and work out what comes first in the “treadling order” i.e. which shaft/s get lifted first and which weft colour/yarn goes into that shed. If you’re doing a complicated or varying pattern, it’s good to put the instructions somewhere easy to see and where you can easily to mark off progress.

You might leave a nice long tail of weft sticking out on the first pick, if you want to use it to hemstitch the raw edge later, but for each pick of weft, you pass the shuttle through the shed and out the other side, leaving it at an angle (about 45 degrees seems to be recommended). This is so there is enough thread there to get pushed into place when you beat, without pulling at the edge where the weft entered the shed.

You bring your beater forward and push the thread into place.

Then you use the next treadle/lever to be pushed and wrap the weft around the selvedge and pass the weft through the “new” shed in the opposite direction, again leaving an angle of thread. Beat.

Repeat according to the pattern and when the “fell line” (i.e. where you are laying in new weft) gets too close to the reed, or the shed gets too shallow to pass the shuttle through comfortably, wind the bit you’ve woven onto the cloth beam.  That is weaving!

When you use all the warp on the loom, you are generally going to hemstich the raw edge at both the warp beam and the cloth beam ends to stop them fraying.

Finally, you’ll take the cloth off the loom, which I have to say is a very nice feeling.

A tabby, a basket and a balanced plain weave

If you were picturing a cat in a basket on a rug then I apologise, but I do try to limit myself to talking about weaving…  🙂

Which brings us to the interesting fact that tabby, basket and plain weave are actually all the same thing. They all have over, under repeating structures.

Tabby is another name for plain weave, and it goes like this:

drawing of plain weaveAnd basket weave is a simple variation of tabby/plain weave, where a pair of weft threads is passed under and over a pair warp threads so you get a pattern a lot like in a woven basket:

drawing of basket weaveBoth these diagrams show what’s called a balanced plain weave.

The word “balanced” indicates that the warp and weft threads are equally spaced, but they don’t have to be. The spacing of the weft relative to the spacing of the warp, is controlled by how you beat the weft (push it into place – not as violent as it sounds!).

For example, if you have a lot of space between your warp threads, and beat the weft threads so there’s very little space between them, then you get a different kind of cloth than if you beat just enough to get a balanced weave. Same applies if you have your warp threads close together, but beat the weft lightly.

Playing with this to see how much it changes the way the cloth behaves is one project on my to-do list!

How a loom helps us weave

Here is a picture of a loom:

a matchbox loom

Yes, it’s a matchbox.

This was the very first type of loom I ever used, because when you work with seed-beads everything is on a small scale.

But what is the matchbox doing?

 

Well, it’s holding the warp threads in place and under tension, so that the person in the picture (that’s not my hand) can use a needle to pass the weft thread over and under the warp threads.

This kind of loom is basically a frame for holding the warp.

Of course, most looms do a lot more than this; importantly they allow you to sandwich the weft between two sets of warp threads, rather than manually feeding the weft over and under each one. This makes weaving faster.

The loom achieves this by lifting one group of warp threads to make a gap for you to pass the weft through.

In this image, you can see that the shuttle holding the weft thread is actually sitting in the gap between two sets of warp threads (that gap is called a shed). When that gap closes, the weft thread ends up under the top group of weft and over the bottom group, giving you the over, under structure.

rigid heddle loom with a shuttle in the shed

Another thing the loom does to help out, is to press the weft into place – this is called beating – which keeps the weft tidy and determining how closely the weft threads are packed into the warp.

How the loom achieves all this I’ll cover in another post, but before we finish, take a look at the image above and how the woven cloth wraps around the front of the loom. This is one more helpful thing, because that cloth beam, as it’s sometimes called, stores the cloth and keeps it out of harm’s way while you continue weaving.