So much to learn

I was going to call this blog ‘disasters I have known’, but I thought that a little negative. Come on, we in the blogging community of weavers all make mistakes, only we don’t use them that often as material for our reports. I thought I might do just that this week because I realised, after getting over the disappointment of a session that went wrong at home this weekend, I had learnt such a lot and been reminded about so many aspects of good practice. Writing about such a session seems a good way to lay it to rest.

Blocks are the current subject on the HNC technical curriculum for the 3rd project of Year 1. Last week I duly spent quite a useful day at the College workshop making some progress, weaving for the first time since the February weekend on a George Wood dobby loom. More on that later. Let’s start with my weekend disasters, and my attempt to start a ‘blocks project’ at home. My home, when it comes to weaving, is actually my office (my wife would say it is my home because I spend so much time here!). I call it a studio because it is in a building of artists’ studios, and as I’m a musician the two rooms I have are  full of studio equipment – computers, recording gear and  . . . my loom. In some ways this is not a good thing, but I live in a small house with a large family and unless I had a folding table loom I don’t know where I’d weave (even that would be difficult). Anyway, I’ve had a studio / office all my professional life except for 5 years when I stayed at home to look after my (then) infant children. 

My loom is a Finnish Toika, a 4-shaft 6 treadle floor loom acquired from a lawyer (a rare-breed sheep enthusiast) who planned to weave rugs in her retirement. That didn’t work out so I was in the right place at the right time to acquire what is a beautiful loom with all the bits – and, generously, some beautiful wool from her sheep. The loom can be expanded to 8 shaft, but I haven’t got around to that yet. It came with 6 and 8 dent reeds, because the original owner only wanted to weave rugs. I’ve ordered a 10 and a 12, but they are still in Finland I think. 

A 2 Block 4-Shaft Weave

A 2 Block 4-Shaft Weave

For this blocks project I did want to weave some of my swatches on the Toika, and a little research (I’ve already mentioned on these pages) showed that there were many ways I could do this using just 4 shafts. One of the most interesting approaches I found in a chapter of Debbie Chandler’s book Learning to Weave. This chapter discussed and demonstrated the Atwater-Bronson lace weave  ‘ structured so that some threads group together, leaving spaces or windows in the fabric’. I spent half an hour one evening last week puzzling over the drafts and then writing them out to explain the detail to myself. It’s an intriguing way of doing things, even though without actually doing it myself, I couldn’t quite visualize why the threading left spaces or windows in the fabric’. I knew if I did it, all would be revealed. Step one, as you can see from the weave diagram above was to change the tie up on my floor loom, something I hadn’t done before. This little exercise, which proved very easy in the end, really made me examine how the countermarche loom works. Until this point (I’d just used the standard tie up) I’d not properly understood the clever mechanism of lams. To get the tie up  shown above I just had to change pedal 2 (LH) set up as 2 &3  to 2,3,4, and pedal 3 (LH) set up as 1 & 2 to just 1. That was all.

The Culprits

The Culprits

Sometime ago my wife found some cheap craft yarn in a charity shop. It was thick, chunky, polyester and about 5-6 epi. There were three colours, just what was required for this exercise, together with the 6 dent reed I had. At this point I should have recalled a disaster from the past – the first time I tried to use chenille. I keep a bit of this yarn on my desk just to remind me of that terrible Sunday when, try as I might, I could not get this lovely material on the loom (then a folding Ashford 4 shaft I was lent by my first teacher). When I came to pick the threads off the cross in my hand (remember I learnt the front-to-back method of raddling with the reed), I couldn’t even see the separate threads! Everything merged into a blur of red.

Past Evidence

Past Evidence

A second disaster was making the warp length too long . . . and this is really stupid . . . I measured for 5 metres . . . and forgot (can you believe) that I needed to measure  the whole journey around the warping board, not just to the end peg! Such thick yarn also needed really careful handling and lots of choke ties to keep things in place. Two of the five warp lengths just became confused and unusable as I tried to prepare to sley them on the loom. I managed 3 out of 5 – but I had far too much length. I realised, and not for the first time, that for me the practice of warping just has to be done regularly, and very very thoughtfully and carefully. I found, to my shame, I’d forgotten so much. For example, when I came to do a slip knot, to temporarily  tie together  the groups of ends sleyed through the reed, I’d forgotten how to do it. There’s quite a long list of such things to remember anew I have now pinned to my notice board.

Three out of Five

Three out of Five

After all that humiliation my day at college last week sounds rather good. I received my assessment for my second project, and despite the doom and gloom of the group critique when it looked for a while that I might have to resubmit, that has been avoided. Along the way I’ve had some very generous and helpful comments from present and past students, as well as some of the on-line community. Thank you all. I haven’t replied to all your comments, but I’m grateful for what you’ve suggested I think about . . . and I will consider all you have said.

Sateen and Satin Blocks

Sateen and Satin Blocks

After my assessment tutorial I spent the day working on a George Wood dobby set up with a Sateen (weft) / Satin  (warp) dobby pegging. I’ve woven with these patterns in my first project and in my first experiments under the wise tutorship of Laura Rosenzweig, a professional weaver from Cumbria who gave me my first lessons in weaving. It was reflecting on my success with these patterns in neutral colours that shaped my first ideas and experiments for this blocks project – with an 8″ 14 epi cotton ecru warp on one of the George Wood dobbys. I gathered two collections of yarns: a synthetic group and a mohair group. Black, grey, black with gold, lighter grey, grey with brown flecks covered most of my colour palette. Weave on this dobby was hard work after the ease of the Louet dobby the previous week, and the pattern itself didn’t help because I invariably had to ‘catch the selvedge’. With some of the yarns I had to beat very gentle to make the Satin pattern clear at all. I started to get into the idea of playing with the sequence of pegging, using the reverse lever position and skipping sections. But it was hard work in comparison to the Louet – you can’t really sit down at this loom – I was so tired by the end of the day I managed to leave my portfolio (presentation board of swatches, sketchbook and file of loom tickets) on Bradford station and had to drive back to Bradford later in the evening to collect them. Thanks to Harry for handing them in to the station staff.

My first scarf - with Sateen / Satin Patterns

My first scarf - with Sateen / Satin Patterns

What you see on the photo above of my day’s work doesn’t appear to amount to very much, but it has given me plenty of ideas for working on something with neutral colours – something I so enjoyed doing when I first started weaving.  Sometimes, for me, colour seems intimidating and a blight on the imagination! Next week I plan to make my own dobby pattern, pegging a few lags and fitting them in place myself. Before I do so I might just put a different warp on the dobby that’s available, just to remind myself I can do it really, and the back to front method, raddle and all. I’ll have to make sure I’m in the workshop ‘very’ early to fit all this in.

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3 Responses to “So much to learn”

  1. Cally Says:

    Your ‘station incident’ reminds me of the weekend when I managed to leave a table in a multi-storey car park in Bradford! It must be something about the intensity of those weekends that wipes the brain clean of normal functioning… Unfortunately it took me about 24 hours to realise what I had done – I contacted the car park but by then there was no sign of a table.

  2. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    That you have found you want to work with neutrals, at least for right now, is very important. Knowing that will make designing upcoming projects much easier for you. I have a brain like a sieve so I was always forgetting things. So for about six months I kept the first two volumes of Peggy Osterkamp (open, of course!) for the entire warp-making process. I found these two volumes invaluable and I still continue to refer to them. She does include countermarche looms in her discussions. For all the nitty-gritty detail of warping, I find Osterkamp much more thorough than Chandler. I can see how that black and white weaving generated lots of ideas!

  3. Dot Says:

    I agree about warping often – helped me learn properly to practice what I’d learnt. The list on the notice board is also a very good idea. I know all about the business of forgetting something important – but as I have been weaving longer I forget less.

    Peg is so right to recommend Peggy Osterkamp’s books. I have all three, probably because I’d seen Peg recommend them, and when I finally splashed out to buy them I realised I should have had these books from the start. They aren’t beginners books but it’s like having a wise friend on hand to help when something goes wrong. She was writing a beginner’s book too, might be published now. Handweavers Studio sell her books in UK.

    I’m sure the 10 and 12 dent reeds will be very useful. For my Toika I have: 4 & 5 for rugs, 8, 10, 12, and just added a 20. I have used 10 and 12 most.

    Glad you got your swatches back! I’ve lost all sorts of things on trains, but mostly berets and umbrellas now I think of it. Managed to get to Preston and back home with beret today – believe me this is a significant achievement 😉

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