The last thing anyone expected from a weaver

I’ve been out looking for a cotton scarf and it’s funny how all my friends have been looking a bit surprised by this. In their minds I would just weave myself one. I can understand this, but it I was surprised by their surprise.

My scarf hunt was very specifically for a certain size and weight and, sadly, a fineness I can’t achieve on my rigid heddle. I say ‘sadly’, but actually I’m kind of pleased that I had to shop for one. It meant not only could I look for something different to what I’d weave for myself, but I could also enjoy a spot of shopping!

And the result?

Blue and white reversible pattern cotton scarf
Pattern reverses colour!!

A little present for myself

Do you ever buy yourself a present that you know you don’t need, but you just really want? This was me the other day. I bought myself a ‘vari dent’ reed.

This allows you to mix-and-match different spacings across the width of the reed. Of course, I have a rigid heddle loom so the point of this isn’t predominantly to vary the spacing of the warp, but to weave different size yarns. That sounds like a lot of fun to me!

And this is what the Ashford’s vari dent reed looks like:

A picture of Ashford's vari dent reed

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The in-between yarn

I have some lovely silk that is just begging to be woven, but it has always struck me as being a little bit skinnier than wool of the same ‘size’. So, before launching into this project, I decided I should do the wraps per inch test just to be sure. I discovered it is a 12 wpi yarn and so technically needs a 6 dpi reed.

Well, this is where I had to stop and think, because the 5 would be too open and the 7.5 a little crowded. What to do? I know I could have gone the 7.5 and it wouldn’t have been a bad thing – after all it’s silk! – but I decided I’d try to actually get 6 dpi. How? By taking my 10 dpi reed and threading 6 ends out of every ten!

This worked pretty well with a pattern like so:  ||- -||- -||||- -||- -||

It also gave me a weird sense of achievement (I have conquered yarn!!!!) (*ahem*) which will only increase if the cloth turns out as silky and delicious as I imagine.

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.

Exercises in doubleweave

Something I’ve played with recently is more doubleweave. Having done tubes and a two colour cushion cover, I decided to try doubleweave:

  • with different patterns on the top and bottom layers
  • where the top and bottom layers are swapped over for part of the weaving

The patterned piece has log-cabin on the top layer and a stripe on the bottom. This led to me trying a few new things, including threading front-to-back.

Crossing is kind of a feature of threading log-cabin on a rigid heddle loom if you direct warp, and doing that with another set of threads for the other layer of my double weave seemed like it would make a big mess. So I figured if I threaded the loom front-to-back and then wound onto the back-beam, I’d have lovely flat threads. It actually worked well.

First up, I direct warped like normal and then put some Ikea bag clips to work to hold the threads ‘in order’.

direct warping the RH loomThen I cut the threads from the back-beam and pulled all the threads clear of the rigid heddle (I only had one in place when I warped, for simplicity). I then added the second rigid heddle and threaded them. Finally, I tied onto the back-beam and then wound the warp on, under tension, removing my clips as I went. Then I tied onto the front-beam like normal.

So, it was a bit sort of backwards, but it did exactly what I wanted. Nice flat threads!

The idea for the second doubleweave piece is that you begin by weaving two layers, each with a different coloured warp and then ‘swap’ the warps part way through. How does this work?

In this little diagram, the bit on the left shows how doubleweave works; i.e. there are two separate sheds and in this case the top and bottom layers are different colours. This means you see just one colour on top while you weave, as shown by the lines to the right.  When you bring the lower warp up to the top, you then see the other colour, as shown by the blue in the middle of the last part of the diagram.

This is damn hard work on an RH loom because you have to manually pick out the warp to bring it to the top for half the picks. For the top layer that’s just a bit time consuming, but for the bottom layer it’s kind of mind-bending!

I’ll pop some photos up of this soon.

A lifetime of potential (drafts)

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.

Tension

What happens when tension goes wrong?

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.