String heddle options

Something I did on my recent pattern that needed string heddles, was to try a different way of doing making the heddles. Didn’t like it as much as my usual way! I’m sure it could be refined though, so here is a comparison of the two methods…

A: As outlined in my older string heddle post, this involves using a continuous length of yarn/thread and pulling up loops with a hook, or finger tips. The dowel/shuttle/knitting needle – whatever you use as a backbone – is inserted through the loops. Finally, stick down with tape.diagram of method APros – I find this fast to set up, easy to adjust so all the loops are the same height (giving you even lift of warp threads) and your string heddles cannot come undone.

Cons – If you make a mistake you often have to undo all the heddles to that point to fix it and you have to start from scratch for each project.

B: You take a rigid heddle (or put two nails in a bit of wood a “heddle distance” apart) and you wrap your yarn/thread around to measure a loop, then tie the ends together to close the circle. Each loop you make is one heddle. You then squash the loop and put a twist in the middle. Feed one end under the warp thread you need to add to that shaft and slip both ends of the loop over your dowel/shuttle/knitting needle. Finally, stick down with tape.Diagram of method BPros – You can reuse the loops in future and the loops are easy to redo/adjust if you pick up the wrong warp thread.

Cons – I found the loop lengths varied making the lift a bit uneven, the knots occasionally came undone (I also broke one, but that might have been my thread choice) and they pulled sideways more, causing my tape to lift in places. Now that last point doesn’t matter too much, except it seemed to contribute to the knots coming undone.

In my very non-scientific single attempt with B heddles, I also thought it caused more abrasion of the warp threads…so overall, not a success for me. But, I did see a weaver online somewhere using this technique – cannot remember where – so others go okay with it!

Might need to try both methods side by side in a half and half to really test which works best…

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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!

Lunchbox project: I made dishcloths

I know I said this project mightn’t involve weaving, but you know how it is when you have yarn… in this case a bright and cheerful acrylic vari that was originally used to knit a scarf.

I can’t even remember why that project was a failure, but I pulled the whole lot back and was left with squiggly yarn:

ball of yarn

That was ages back and then I got thinking it’d make nice dishcloths, because it’s chunky (12ply), colourful and acrylic. Now, a lot of people prefer natural fibers for dishcloths but, as this is for the office, I want it to dry quickly and acrylic is good for that!

I had enough warp for 3 so I’m well supplied now. Though you can only see one facing here, this is the whole lot still all one piece, drying on the line:

dishcloth drying on the line
With hemstitching and a few rows of PW each end, I decided to texture the middle of the cloth with a pick-up stick pattern

I wanted more scrubbing power, so I did a 2 ends up, 2 ends down pattern with an offset, divided by 2 picks of PW (image above shows the reverse).

The pattern opened up the web nicely and I think it’ll make for a better cloth for my purposes. It also looks nice with this vari – kind of amps up the chaos of the colours crossing themselves – and I want chaos, because it’ll hide stains, wear etc.

My only worry is they’ll be a bit fluffy, as it is a soft acrylic. I’m going to throw them in the machine a few times before I start using them to “wear them in”.

Dishcloths for work… Tick!

I’ll report back on how they go in use… But that’s the first lunchbox item done!!

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.

Introducing string heddles

Having decided to give that 4 shaft pattern a go, I had to make string heddles to lift my slot threads. What are string heddles? They are a ‘stick’ onto which you attach loops of ‘string’ so that when you lift the stick, you lift a set of threads. Commonly used with rigid heddle looms, but also for some techniques on multi-shaft looms.

Why do you need them on a rigid heddle loom? Because when you have a 4-shaft pattern one pick-up stick sits on top of the threads of the other pick-up stick and prevents you lifting them. (This doesn’t apply to double weave!)

How do you set up string heddles? Here is my (I’m sure not unique) approach…string heddles step 1

  1. Once your loom is dressed, put both rigid heddles in the down position to get your hole threads out of the way. I slip a bit of paper into the ‘shed’ behind the heddles so I can see my slot threads clearly.
  2. Use a pick-up stick to select the slot threads for that shaft of the pattern.
  3. Pass your ‘string’ (thread, yarn, string…) under the selected threads – here I used some red yarn.

String heddles steps 4 & 5

4. Use a hook to pull loops of your string between each selected slot thread and this will tell you if you’re string is long enough.

string heddle step 6

5. Slip the loops onto your stick (dowel, knitting needle, shuttle, pick-up stick…) and secure each end of the string to the stick with a tight knot – I’ve used a crochet hook as my stick.

6. Use some tape along the top of the stick to stop the string slipping off and you can also remove the pick-up stick at this point.

Repeat steps for second string heddle – here I’ve used a crochet hook and a shuttle as my ‘sticks’ as I was only weaving a narrow sample.

To get the best shed when you lift a string heddle, it’s good to hold the middle of the stick. Also, have the loops of your string heddles as close to the rigid heddle as possible.

Creating sheds with pick up sticks

Last post, I mentioned I was doing a more complicated threading.  This was the “magic step” pattern, which has groups of 2 and 3 consecutive warp threads on one shaft.image of four square gradient pattern called magic step

Because I wanted to focus on the pattern rather than how to get the right epi, I decided to only thread slots and create my sheds with my pick-up sticks!

Despite the fact I over beat it (you can see they’re not exactly squares), it turned out rather well, and the alternating colour pattern made picking up the right threads easy. Also, you use one pick up stick more than the other, so you don’t have to change sticks with each pick.

It was an interesting experiment…

The magic step pattern is a bit big for 8ply yarn (75 ends to get one pattern repeat!) I discovered that the threads bunched a lot due to being paired in slots – I’d probably split the pairs more if I used this method again. It was also difficult not to over beat with this threading.

The thing to keep in mind when working with multiple slot threads is that you need one pick up stick per slot thread. Why? Because each stick lifts one thread.

In fact, I did a fun little yarn-speriment to see what would happen if I used one stick for two slot threads.

So, I warped the reed/heddle with 2 slot threads and 1 hole thread. Then, in a down shed, I put every 2nd slot thread on the stick. I then wove in the usual way, but with an added step; after each down shed I left the reed/heddle where it was, turned the stick on its edge and wove a pick.

This is like weaving with 2.5 shafts (an amusing thought). It isn’t shown to full effect in this picture, but I like the resulting pattern.

image of weaving sample

This is how the slot threads interlace with the weft:

2.5 shaft interlacement

Playing with pick-up sticks

Pick-up sticks, or pattern sticks, are a neat way to do patterns using floats or supplementary weft. On rigid heddle looms they’re a way to introduce a whole range of different patterns and textures, including making “lace” and things like waffle weave.

So, what are pick-up sticks in weaving? A flat stick that is wide enough to give you a useable shed, when inserted between warp threads and turned on its edge. Though my first pick-up stick was a spatula! (I was impatient to try the technique.) And many weavers repurpose stick shuttles for this.

Pick up stick
Pick up stick

Generally you put your reed/heddle into a down-shed and then slip the stick under the desired slot threads behind the reed/heddle (e.g. under every third thread). You then alternate weaving normal tabby picks and pattern picks where you put the pick-up stick on its edge to create a shed. There are plenty of videos online showing how to do this, so I won’t go into it too much, but here are a few pics to give you an idea:

image of a pick up stick inserted between threads
Stick inserted under the desired threads behind the reed.
Image of a pickup stick in use
Stick turned on its edge. This should be hard up against the reed to get a good size shed in front.

It is very easy to miss a thread when using pick-up sticks and I found it helped to put a piece of stiff paper – in a contrasting colour – under my slot threads, so I could see them clearly.

Some people actually pick up in front of the reed/heddle (easier to reach), turn the pick-up stick on edge to create a shed and then insert a second pick-up stick into the shed behind the reed/heddle, finally removing the first pick-up stick.

I must say it makes me nostalgic for the more commonly known kind of pick-up stick!

the game of pick up sticks