argos: Fursuit by myself. :-D (at work)
[Third of three descriptions]

The third woven piece was created in response to the weavers' challenge for 2010: "Weave a green bag" which explicitly left the definitions of "green" and "bag" up to the individual weaver. Almost all of the results Color Me Green that were exhibited at the June meeting were purses or handbags of some sort. Not that this was wrong, and most of them were quite interesting and well done, with a great deal of variety.

Having no particular use for a handbag, though, I naturally set out to do something different. I started with the word "green" and (after discarding it as slang for "cash") decided to cover multiple bases. This item is therefore "green" in the sense that it uses some recycled fiber (the blue weft was spun from fiber reclaimed from old jeans,) some organic fiber (the brown and beige wefts were organically grown cottons, in natural colors,) and literally, the color green (the warp threads and the weft at the two ends were commercial pearl cotton that came predyed green, and one weft thread was spun from a variety of cotton that has a natural pale green color even after processing.)

The project is intended for use as a convenient carrying bag to hold a drop spindle and a supply of wool or other fiber for spinning. I generally prefer a largish spindle for spinning on the road, so the bag is sized appropriately for a Kundert or Jenkins spindle.

The weave structure is plain double weave on four shafts, which allows two layers of cloth joined at the edges to be woven at once. Thus the bag has no vertical seam. Eyelets for the drawstrings were woven in right on the loom as well, so the only sewing required had to close the bottom and turn the casing at the top. Drawstrings were braided from six two-ply strands of the handspun weft in three of the four colors. Green wooden beads complete the finish. As simple as it looks, this was one of the more complex weave structures I've ever done entirely on my own. I've made complex garments before by weaving the fabric, then cutting and sewing it, but this was woven all of a piece and with most of the features in place. As such, I'm quite pleased with the result. Judging took place today, the show will be arranged for display tomorrow, and the results will be announced on Wednesday. I have no particular expectation for these pieces, because the weaving judges tend to focus more on high fashion than they do on unusual ideas, experiments, or simple art. That said, this bag and the shawl I described yesterday were both entered in the county fair and both received second place awards in their categories.
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)
And here's the second of three pieces that will be in the gallery show this month. This one is a shawl or a wide scarf, of very soft handspun merino wool. Rainbows are RelativeBoth warp and weft are handspun, and the weave structure is barleycorn. It was woven on a rigid heddle loom, using a pickup stick to create the floats. For anyone interested in weave structures, barleycorn is a simple warp float design created on a straight draw on four harnesses by lifting just 1, then 2 and 4, then 1, then 2 and 4, and finally 1 and 3. This is repeated as necessary. A single shuttle is used, so one thread forms both the floats and the tabby weave ground.

The rainbow yarn is spun from a blend of bamboo and merino wool that came from Creatively Dyed Yarns as a dyed roving. The gray merino and the white merino warp (visible at the fringes) were spun from plain rovings. This shawl is about 12 in. wide and 50 in. long. The colors seem to fascinate people, and one offer to buy it has already been received.

As usual, click on the thumbnail above for a larger view. Tomorrow, we'll see the third piece in the show, titled "Color Me Green."
argos: (snowy argos)
It's snowing again. Maybe an inch, they say. The odd thing is it's really cold. Normally we get snow here when temperatures are hovering within a few degrees of freezing, and it stops and just blows around once we get down below 20°F. Not this time, though.

Spin spin spin. Yak down. Yak yuk yuk. Actually, the first time I tried spinning yak I was far from impressed. It looked like dryer lint and smelled like belly button lint from a gorilla who needed a bath. And it was full of dust, on top of everything else.

The second time came after I'd figured out, with considerable effort, how to spin cotton. Cotton and yak share a characteristic: the fibers are quite short, well under an inch and generally close to a half inch (one cm. or so.) This means that everything you learned from spinning wool and flax has to be forgotten and you start over from the beginning. The methods that work with these short fibers are both counter-intuitive and in fact usually won't work with ordinary wool or flax. Using what I'd learned from cotton, I could spin the yak down. It was kind of lumpy looking, and the color was about the same as dog poo, but at least that sample didn't smell like dog poo (or much of anything else.) Still, I wasn't excited about yaks.

In October last year, our spinning study group decided to re-approach cotton. It seems that when we tried it the first time, I was the only one who got lucky and actually developed some proficiency with it. Everyone else sort of got it to work but thought it wasn't worth the bother. Now another member has broken the barrier (by using the same tool I did, the book charkha) and there's new interest.

In the two years since our first attempt, though, I've spun a mile or two of cotton thread. I wanted a different challenge, but one that would apply what I learned from cotton. So... Yakkity yak yak. Fortunately, The Fold has several kinds of yak now. One of them is a natural silvery gray and quite pretty. I thought yaks were only brown or sort of dirty white beige, but I was wrong. I got some gray yak down, and tried it on the charkha. Easy enough, it seemed. So I moved to the spinning wheel.

Like cotton, yak requires a different approach to the wheel. You increase the twist speed up to the maximum or nearly so, and back off the yarn tension as far as you can take it and still get the yarn to wind on when it's ready. And like cotton, yak falls apart if you misstep. As it turned out, I had few mishaps. I found I could use my cotton skills and make a fine, consistent thread. No carding or combing needed, because this yak is clean and fluffy. Just grab a pawful and spin it. Two bobbins now sufficiently filled, all I need to do is ply them together tonight and I'll have about a hundred yards or so of laceweight. By the time I get all four ounces of fluff spun, I'll have easily enough to make a nice scarf or shawl if I knit a lacy pattern. It feels almost as soft as cashmere and just as light. Since yaks are high altitude cold weather beasts, I suspect it will be warm in spite of the light weight.

Conclusion: All yaks are not yuck, but some are yuckier than others.
argos: White canine cupcake (pupcake)
Time to howl! (Full moon.)

I've been waiting around for [personal profile] altivo to finish with the NaNoWriMo for this year so I could get back to spinning and weaving. Everything was on hold for most of November.

My spinning study group is working on cotton during the holidays. Since I'm pretty much acknowledged as the best cotton spinner in that group, I could just laze around but I feel obligated to crank out some interesting samples while they catch up to me in technique. I'm using the book charkha to do that. It's a remarkably portable tool, because it folds up into itself to the size of a hardback book. The only thing that would be smaller and lighter would be a drop spindle, and yes, I'm spinning some cotton on one of those too (an ultralight one that only weighs 10 grams) just to see if it works. So far it seems to, though it requires some rather odd techniques that differ from wool spinning on a drop spindle in many ways.

There's also a challenge for wool spinning to spin yarn for and knit a lace cap using a particular pattern. That needs to be done by the end of January and I haven't started yet, though it doesn't look as if it will take too long.

For cotton spinning, though, I find the charkha is the way to go. Once you get used to the technique (including sitting on the floor like Gandhi, which puts my feet to sleep after a half hour or so) it becomes extremely productive. I can fill a spindle in about 15 minutes (about 100 yards of cotton spun to the weight of sewing thread.) Then two spindles' worth get plied back together in the opposite direction to make a strong, fine thread suitable for crochet or weaving. You could knit with it too, but I don't much care for knitted cotton.

I'll see about some cotton photos for next time.
argos: (Default)

Sleying the reed
Originally uploaded by Altivo
I finished threading the new warp on the Norwood this morning and, after a break for breakfast and barn chores, returned to start sleying the reed. That's a second step in threading, in which every warp thread is pulled through one of the slots in a comb-like device that is set into the beater. After each pick of weft is passed across the warp, the beater pulls the reed down against the forming edge of the fabric (the fell) to pack the weft down evenly and keep the warp threads arranged at equal distances. For this particular warp, I'm using a reed with ten slots (or dents) per inch, so exactly one warp thread goes through each slot in the reed.

When I had 60 or so warp ends pulled through the reed, I paused to admire the orderly parallel lie of the warp ends and realized that weaving is really about order. The weaver creates order in a chaotic environment, usually a rigidly enforced and precise order. The strength of fabric depends on that order, as does its ability to hold its shape and resist wear. In fact, sometimes we impose such good order that we have to undo some of it in the end to round the corners and soften the edges, so to speak. Woolen cloth in particular is usually fulled to soften it and make it thicker and warmer. This is done by washing and beating the fabric so that the wool fibers slip out of line a bit and contract, fluffing and thickening in the process. For some woolens, we also brush the surface with stiff brushes to pull out the ends of the fibers and make the surface fuzzy and resilient. Blankets are traditionally treated in this manner. Silks and linens are mangled, a process in which they are deliberately abused in order to bend and soften the fibers.

On the whole, though, weavers are creating order, imposing a rigid structure on threads that would otherwise lie limp and tangled. Knitters do something similar, but by a different means.

Spinners, on the other paw, often work to create chaos or disorder first. This happens not so much in the spinning process itself, which does impose a sort of order that is often resisted by the fibers as they try to unwind themselves again, but in the preparation for spinning. Wool is carded not just to make the fibers lie parallel but to make a certain percentage of them lie in random orientation. This produces a fluffier yarn that holds air and therefore insulates better. The garment feels warmer as a result. Wool and other animal fibers are typically washed once again after spinning with the express intention of both setting the twist (like setting hair with a permanent) and of letting the fibers relax and form a halo of loose fuzzy ends around the core of yarn (chaos again.) When we make felt from wool, we are pushing the chaos farther, deliberately tangling those fibers until they can't be untangled without cutting them.

No wonder, I thought, that the Ancient Greeks associated fate with spinning and weaving. The three Fates (or Moirae) were sisters who controlled the destiny of all humans. Clotho spun the fiber of life on her spindle. Lachesis measured and wove the spun threads into the tapestry of life in an orderly and controlled manner. Atropos (whose name can be translated loosely as "Untwisting" or even "Disorder") cut the threads, or sometimes tore or bit them, bringing life to an end and forcing Clotho ("Spinner") and Lachesis ("Measurer") to repair and reweave with new threads always.

Other thought systems often have similar concepts, expressed frequently in dualities in which one force represents creation and order, while the other is destruction and chaos. As a weaver, I have chosen the side of order, but I occasionally wonder if it isn't essential to balance that with some energy from the other side. It's a direction I've seldom taken, but sometimes it's necessary.

New toys!

Oct. 23rd, 2009 08:21 pm
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)
I splurged this month and bought two weaving tools I've wanted for a long time. One is a spool rack that lets you unwind up to 40 threads at once from separate spools without tangling. The other is called a tension box, and has staggered pegs over which those threads can be passed to develop an even amount of tension across the group as they are pulled through. Each end of the box has a small comb called a reed that you thread them through to spread them evenly across a certain width. Together these two devices allow what is called sectional warping, in which the warp can be wound onto the loom's back beam in one or two inch segments rather than doing the entire width of the cloth all at once. It makes the complicated process easier for one person without an assistant, and also speeds it up because it is no longer necessary to measure and cut all the warp threads individually before the loom can be dressed and threaded.

Two of my five looms are designed for this type of warping process, and though I've used them with the older methods and it works fine, I've wanted to be able to do this. It makes wider warps more practical and should speed up the whole process of getting set up for weaving by as much as a third. (Some weavers claim half, but I'm doubtful about that.) While I love designing the cloth and even enjoy the rather tedious job of threading the loom, measuring and beaming a wide warp is so nerve-wracking and tedious to me that I have usually avoided it. Hopefully, this can change now.

I'm going to try setting up a simple warp for rag rugs this weekend, just to get the feel of the process. I've done that before enough times to know roughly how long it took, and thus should have some valid comparison.

Unfortunately, I went out to the barn to get some stored materials for rag rug weaving and found that mice have gotten into the terrycloth sock strips I had left out there. The brazen little beasts didn't even run away, they just sat in the midst of their wreckage and stared at me. The cotton rug warp, though, and balls of rag strips already cut and sewn together were all safe, so I can still proceed.

I'll see about getting photos of the procedure if I can.

My spinning group has agreed that for the next twelve months we will each track and report the number of yards of yarn or thread we have spun each month. I thought I was in good shape with 848 yards for October already, but of course the guild president just sent me a message saying she had Navajo-plied 500 yards of wool this week. Navajo plying produces a three stranded yarn, so that means she spun 1500 yards before plying. Darn it. ;p (I knew she'd probably come out on top of everyone though. She's incredibly productive, and does much of her spinning with an ordinary hand drop spindle while riding the train to and from work in Chicago.)
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)
Judge's comment forms are now in paw, having arrived in yesterday's mail. Not bad, really. They score on a 50 point scale, and my scores were 40 for the handwoven scarf, 42 for the purple onions overshot, and 44 for the wall hanging that got third place. The handwritten notes make it clear that the judge in fact liked all three pieces. Competition was intense, certainly.

I received the prize last week. The third place award in the tapestries and wall hangings was-- two balls of purple yarn. Ironic, no? But I'll figure out something to do with it.

I've got an itch to put a warp onto the big loom now. That's the one my shawl was woven on last year. It's the size of a small piano but fortunately doesn't weigh as much. 'Tivo wants a Peruvian ruana and has had the wool yarn for it stored up for years. I think it's time. I'd like to use sectional warping, though, because this will be a large warp. I need a couple of additional tools for that, which means shopping around and ordering them from the least costly source.

Meanwhile, I'm spinning. I have a big box of white wool from our sheep Dodge, all washed and carded, ready to spin. Started this morning, and looks like it will go pretty fast. This will make a sportweight woolen knitting yarn, suitable for sweaters, scarves, and other garments. I'm using a long draw technique, which makes a slightly fuzzy, lofty yarn that should be quite warm. There should be enough yarn to knit a full sweater from, but I'll most likely go for several smaller items instead.

Show opens

Oct. 7th, 2009 06:30 pm
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)
View color flyer here (PDF)

What: Woodstock Weavers Guild 12th annual show, combined with Hollow Tree Spinners
Where: Old Courthouse Arts Center, 101 Johnson (on the Square), Woodstock, Illinois
When: Thursday, October 8, 2009 through Sunday, November 1, 2009
Hours: Thursday-Friday 11 am to 5 pm, Sunday 1 to 5 pm, Monday-Wednesday CLOSED

*tail wags*

I have eleven pieces in the show. Judging was not complete when I was last in the gallery, but I had three firsts and three thirds in spinning at that point.

That's not why you should go, though. There are gorgeous things to see. Clothing, rugs, tapestry, table linens, and more. Visit the Square on Saturday morning and there's a farmer's market as well. Restaurants and boutiques surround the park in the center, which is just beginning to develop fall color. See the historic Woodstock Opera House, and the former jail that at various times held famous prisoners like Eugene V. Debs or John Dillinger. Apple orchards in the area are open and busy selling ripe apples, cider, doughnuts and other goodies.

If you are in the Rockford-Crystal Lake-Elgin-McHenry area of Illinois, or the Elkhorn-Walworth-Lake Geneva area of Wisconsin, this is well worth the trip. Come see.
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)

2009 Tour de Fleece Output
Originally uploaded by Altivo
Photo of my results from the Tour de Fleece. Inspired, one suspects, by the use of the term "spinning" for bicycle racing, the goal is to spin every day that the Tour de France rides. These four yarns were the result.

The white merino and the multicolored merino-bamboo blend will be in this year's show as yarn. The plan is to weave them into a soft shawl or scarf for the 2010 show. The dark tweed woolen singles will, hopefully, be turned into a scarf using Scandinavian nålbinding techniques in time for this year's show.
argos: (Default)
The Tour de Farce *oops* I mean Fleece is over.

I did not get all 8 ounces of merino-cotton blend spun. Probably got through about 3 ounces of that. But I ended up with stuff going on three spinning wheels at once. So in addition to the merino-cotton, I spun 4.6 ounces of tweedy wool singles for use in nålbinding. And four ounces of superwash merino in a two ply worsted suitable for use as weaving warp. And most of four ounces of rainbow dyed merino-bamboo blend to be used as weft with the superwash. I promise a photo soon, but I'm too sleepy to take one right now. Sorry.

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