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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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!

Scarf in a day

As it has been a bit hot (40C/140F) the past days, I hid in the aircon with my loom watching movies. Wonderful thing about having a rigid heddle loom… you only need a table and your lap anywhere in the house!

I’d actually measured and wound the warp onto the back beam earlier, but something was niggling at the back of my mind… I’d glimpsed a broken thread somewhere… note to self: don’t listen to extremely interesting podcasts while dressing the loom!

Anyway, I unwound and discovered:

Broken yarn in the heddles of the loom
My phone wouldn’t focus on the yarn… but you get the idea

The yarn gods were smiling though, because I had one more warp end than I needed so I could just pull this end out.

Despite the broken bit, it is gorgeous wool. I’ve not woven a vari that is a ply of multiple colours and then crossed it with itself. But this was the yarn I sampled last year. I’d thought it’d look good with purple – which it did – but against itself it was stunning.

What fascinates me, is the interplay of the colours… the long change of the variegation gives strong warp strips and these don’t blur or get muddied by a weft that’s going through the same changes.

The variegated yarn in the warp showing strong stripes

Here is the scarf, just waiting for a wash, with the stripes still strong:

Finished scarf on the table

The colour twist gives it such a lively surface too. Up close it almost looks busy.

A close up of the unwashed cloth

I’m looking forward to seeing if it changes at all when fulled!

Cheats/hacks… warp end gap

Depending on how you attach your warp to your back beam/ back warp-stick on a rigid heddle loom, you can find that when you’re close to the end of your warp the warp isn’t all nice and level. Some warp ends are higher/lower than others and this creates a messy gap which can make it hard to get a clean shed.

My approach when this starts to happen is to get a nice long bit of scrap yarn and, just in front of the back warp stick, wrap it around bunches of warp ends. This cinches them together and removes the gap. I find I can squeeze the very last out of the length of my warp this way.

warp ends cinched together with scrap yarnIn this example I was grouping quite a few ends at a time, but I often do them in much smaller groups.

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!

Playing with yarn and chevrons

This is a terrible photo for colour accuracy, but shows the latest of my experiments in tablet weaving. It’s quite narrow (6mm) and the cotton is a bit shiny, so it’s a little hard to photograph well.

tablet weaving sampleIn my description of how the twisting of the warp yarn works in tablet/card weaving, I mentioned it created a warp-faced weave. In this sample you can make out just the odd spot of dark weft showing through the purple and teal warp (that’s what the colours are supposed to be!). All the rest of the weft is hidden inside the twists.

This was created by having three holes in each tablet/card threaded with the purple and one teal. During set up I turned each card so that the teal thread was one position further away on each card, as this gives you the > shape as you weave (called chevrons). The teal thread on each card is only visible every four picks/four turns.

The direction of the chevrons was altered by changing the direction I rotated the tablets in, starting by turning them away from me and then turning them toward me. It’s a bit lumpy where I changed direction, so I still haven’t gotten that quite right! Still, I like the result in such pretty thread.

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!