Of course you weaver folk guessed correctly about my letter opener. I’ve been using it to weave a pick-up band. I don’t have a band loom, and there were a couple of false starts before I worked out a shedding and tensioning arrangement that suited me.

My first mistake was a vintage bead loom. This belonged to my aunts when they were children, but they never used it, probably because the impenetrable instructions made it look like work, which it was.  I used it once to bead a cuff bracelet. I was good at things like that as a kid. I had a strange talent for completing self-imposed projects I had come to hate. (The hideous printed-yardage-kit rag doll plus accessories and the dolls house come to mind.)

I didn’t exactly hate beading–I just found the end result rather frail and useless. It didn’t justify the finicky work.  I didn’t know how to tack the finished web of beads to leather (didn’t know where you even got craft leather at the age of eleven), and wasn’t much interested in Indian jewelry or belts or hatbands in the first place. But I loved the little loom! I had a notion I could weave cloth bands on it, if only I had some directions. I clearly remember finding some Scandinavian needlepoint patterns in an ancient copy of Workbasket magazine around that time, and thinking “If I knew how to weave, I could weave sewing trim or narrow tapestries with motifs like that!” Much more exciting than seed beads, to me.

I kept the loom all these years not for band weaving, but because it was too cute to get rid of and no one else in the family was likely to want it. As I was contemplating the problem of tensioning my current band warp, I took it out and had a look at it.

It is too small to use with the Beka rigid heddle I bought from Earth Guild, so I made a continuous string heddle, like this–

–and prepared to beam my warp. I meant to treat the the wire spacers on the back beam as a kind of raddle, then cover the breast and back beams up with little rolls of card to keep the wire spacers from catching the threads while I was wove. But the spacers (intended for fine bead thread) are too close. My linen and cotton warp dragged and caught, and inevitably popped right out of them. I might have managed to carry out my plan with a single ply of embroidery floss or something equally fine, but even so, the loom is really too short to allow much of a shed or much room to ply the pick-up stick. Nix on that.

I threaded the heddle, sighed, got out my backstrap sling. I don’t like the whole tied-to-a-doorknob thing much, besides which the doorknobs around here–where they remain–are a hundred years old. They have been taken out and put back in the wrong doors, with the wrong screws, in stripped holes. They are rickety. Tie the warp to a doorknob, and I was liable to pull the knob right off and find myself locked in.

I looked around for something else to tie myself to. The newel post is a part of a modern prefabricated stair-and-banister kit someone put in when they ripped out the original staircase. I don’t like it much, but it is great for weaving. All the little turned bobbles allowed me to attach my warp at whatever height I wished.

I had used internet resources to learn how one does this kind of work. They made it sound really complicated, and I spent a lot of time earnestly trying to comprehend the whole process before I had begun it, which didn’t work. Happily, once I understood the threading principle (ground, ground, pattern–regardless of holes and slots) and had the loom in my hands, it wasn’t that hard to figure out pick-up technique.

I soon saw why clever folk put a second set of holes in their traditional rigid heddle tape looms. From what I read it is strictly a Norwegian innovation, though it is such an improvement on regular tape looms, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t taken up elsewhere!

Speckled background bands are a pain but doable with a normal rigid heddle. (That’s when you let the unused pattern warps go up and down as they please to make specks in the plain weave ground when they are not skipping up to make part of the design, as shown in this nice article on the Weaver’s Hand site, and this older entry on knotted pile weaver Sarah Lamb’s blog.) But I didn’t want to make speckled background bands. I wanted monochrome backgrounds as shown in the second part of Sarah Lamb’s tutorial–which means you have to pick out all the pattern warps from the all ground warps all the time, not just select and lift the few you especially want on top.

With a second set of holes in the heddle, to carry the pattern warps just a tad over the ground warps, the pattern warps are always easy to see and pick out, even when they happen to be on the bottom side of the shed. You can see how this double-holed Norwegian loom is threaded in a 2008 article in Weavezine (“Scandinavian Tape Looms”, by Grace Hatton), which I have to admit I only really understood after I had tried weaving with an normal rigid heddle and found it unnecessarily difficult! I unpicked the bit of weaving you see here, plus a little more, and decided to make myself a new loom.

to be continued….


Food Holiday

November 27, 2009

So, what day is it? Friday. Right. After Thanksgiving. Yesterday evening, after some novel-reading and an aggressively long and fast walk in the cold rain to try and startle my lower back into hurting less (nothing out of the ordinary, but harder to bear that day), Der Mann went out with a grocery list of food we needed and the intention of purchasing our Thanksgiving frozen pizzas. Our town is quite a distance from the nearest real grocery store, and when he got there he found it shut for the holiday. I think that’s a good thing–fair to the employees–but somehow we end up trying buy something there every Christmas and Thanksgiving; we never remember their holiday closure policy from one to the next. They’re union. It’s a regional franchise.

Der Mann went on down the highway to Safeway. I have many food allergies, so there is only one kind of pizza I can eat: the Super Yucky brand. And Safeway stocked only the yuckiest permutation of the Super Yucky brand. Because he’d had to go so far, there wasn’t time to shop for normal groceries, just the pizzas.

While Der Mann was baking his own pizza, I denuded mine of frozen soy cheese and frozen pureed spinach by chiseling at it with a sharp slotted spoon (while swearing and raving), smeared the soggy, pasty crust with olive oil, baked it by itself to give it some backbone, then put on my own tomato sauce, covered it with real mozzerella, and baked it again. The irony was that I had proposed frozen pizza because I was too tired to make one from scratch. Frozen pizzas aren’t a habit with us. In fact, I think the last time we had them was on moving day, back in March, when I said: “Well, aren’t these Super Yucky pizzas a waste of money. I won’t bother with them again.”

It was okay, although I oversalted the sauce.

While we ate, we watched an episode of the 1978 All Creatures Great and Small series on the computer, which had confused and alarmed me the few times I encountered it as a small child.  You can watch it as a “view instantly” selection through netflix.  The overacting and the whole repetitive up-the-cow-butt thing tickles me somehow.

Der Mann and I spend our Thanksgivings thankful that we don’t have to spend them with our relatives. Or is a spouse a relative? Now I think I will put the weaving news in a separate post, so I can delete this one later if I regret it.

Can you guess what I’m making with this? If you’ve been reading Dot’s Fibre to Fabric blog, you probably can.


Last year Granny was cleaning out her sewing drawers and found yet another stash of sewing/knitting notions that had belonged to her mother. Great Granny was such a pack rat, it took Granny about a year to clean out her small house after she died, and she’s still finding pockets of Great Granny’s stuff that she hasn’t had time to sort and disperse–things that weren’t valuable, but were somehow so infused with Great Granny that she couldn’t bring herself to throw them out. I have happily taken some of them, like the collection of bobby pins and various kinds of toothed 1920’s-1940’s metal clips that Great Granny used to set her hair for pin-curls and marcel waves every morning. It was amazing to watch how nimbly she did this; it was her signature hairstyle most of her life. The way it fell in place when she combed it out was sheer magic. Now I use the clips to hold back the layers when I cut Der Mann’s hair. For a long time they smelled of her.

This particular stash had some knitting markers and gauges, a celluloid tracing wheel that belonged to my Granny’s granny, Nanny, and this handmade copper letter opener. Granny didn’t know anything about it except that her mother had always kept it in her desk. It seemed the sort of thing someone might have made for her when she was a girl in rural Idaho, but Granny couldn’t say for sure that her mother had been its first owner. As Granny was telling me this I was turning it around in my hands, and found the initial at the end of the handle.


Great Granny’s name was Kathleen, so it was definitely hers. In normal light the embedded copper is nearly the same color as the wood. I’m not surprised no one spotted it. I can imagine one of the old coots who came to her father’s general store making it, or her mother sending it to her at boarding school, or picking it out for her in a souvenir shop someplace like Yellowstone in the 1910’s. I’ll never know.

I love this tool. Aside from loving the look of it and the way it’s put together, with the little copper wedges holding the blade into the handle and the braided copper wires binding it, it is almost perfectly balanced, and I like the way it fits in my hand. As soon as I held it I knew immediately what I was going to do with it.

But that’s not the only project I’ve got going. I’ve also warped up the Spear’s rigid heddle loom for another scarf out of scraps of Great Granny yarn, padded with a bit of Goodwill yarn from the same era. Perhaps you remember the three scarves I made last year for my aunts and mom? I’m not sure who this one is for. Maybe one of my sisters. The urge just came on me to use up ridiculously small scraps of yarn. Maybe because it’s autumn. Waste not, want not. The past. Family. Dissolution. Time.


When I had the warp on I the loom I remembered something about weaving on the Spear’s. It turns me into a moaning hunchback. If your rigid heddle loom doesn’t have blocks, that means you will be holding up the heddle with either your left or right hand, at arm’s length, against the tensioned threads, for every other pass of the shuttle.

I knew I would regret it if I put off making heddle blocks any longer. Milled 1x2s are the wrong size to make proper attached blocks, which need to be a true 1/2 inch thick for this loom, so I made some free-standing ones. (Again the scraps!) They don’t hold the “down” shed in place as attached blocks would, but that doesn’t really matter: the Spear’s heddle holds the down shed by itself if you just let it dangle. It is heavy enough for that because you can’t weave at very tight tension anyway on a Spears, due to the bolt-and-wingnut mechanism it uses for advancing and securing the warp.

I was going to tell you about the hellish spring-summer-fall that accounts for my blog silence, but it isn’t over and I’m not in the mood. Maybe later? I’ll leave you with a genuine out-the-window picture. Yes, that is is a Fisher Price McDonald’s playset circa 1978. It was buried four feet underground. If plastic could talk…


Season of Shreds and Patches