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!

Loomy-goodness

As you may know, I didn’t do much weaving in 2018. It was a low project year. But 2019 is looking not too shabby as we head to the mid-point, with three completed projects and one on the loom… so much fun!

What started out as a plain weave scarf, ended up – due to plain weave fatigue – as an experiment in using up some thrums doing… well… it basically tapestry. Can’t wait to see how it fulls.

Cloth woven by laying in rows of different yarns to make shapes and textures
In a good/bad result – this didn’t use up as much of my thrum stash as I expected!

Then I decided that I should do something with my vari-dent reed… poor thing has been unloved since I bought it. Of course I didn’t use it for different gauge yarn – why would I use something for it’s intended purpose?! – instead I used it to play with spacing. Very pleased with the result!

Yarn threaded into a reed containing mixed heddle sizes
You can see the sections of 30/10 and 20/10 reed – I used the larger size to double up my 8 ply
A section of cloth with different warp spacings from using the vari-dent reed
A quick (and lumpy) photo of the finished cloth

For the first time in 3 years or so, I did twill. Just a 3 shaft, straight treadling, but it was useful to find all the things I’ve forgotten about twill! Pic might come later… accidentally deleted the pic of it on the loom… ahem.

What’s on the loom right now is an optical illusion 2 shaft pattern… soooooo enjoying this. And it meant I got to do string heddles and have all manner of fun with calculations… but, honestly, I’m in it for the way it messes with my eyes!

Cloth on the loom showing a black and white pattern that looks like the cloth undulates
Isn’t this pattern a doozy?

Cheats/hacks… uses of a metal knitting needle

There are quite a lot of uses for a thin metal knitting needle when rigid heddle weaving, I think. From clearing a sticky shed to counting picks and even (I know I shouldn’t) poking my fell line, I’m always glad to have one on-hand.

Of course for those uses it doesn’t have to be metal, but I like a metal needle because it has a certain weight to it. Also, I tend to use it to provide lift-assistance to my string heddles and a metal needle never feels like it’ll snap under tension!

As with most such tools though, I probably find more uses for it simply because it is right there to be used!

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.