Weft Behind

May 5, 2010

Last year I missed the big weavers’, potters’, metalworkers’, woodworkers’, and glassworkers’ guild show in the city because we had just moved and I was doing scut work on the house.  This year we went, scut work or no.  I didn’t waste any time in achieving my purpose:

The “weft-overs” table!  (Pun not mine.  Thank goodness.)

There was a lot of the same scratchy mystery yarn as the other time I went to the show, but this time there was linen, too.  The cylinders are smallish (not as big as a standard cheese of Borgs cottolin), and heavy on the pink, but I scooped up almost everything that was there.  Those tags?  Most of them say 50 cents, 75 cents, and $1!  To be honest, I was greedy.  I only left a couple of particularly pepto pinks, some stained stuff, and maybe a few that smelled.  But one of the weavers mentioned that there was a lot more yarn earlier in the day.  Does it make it any better that I was only feeding on the crumbs of a greater greed than my own?

I justify my purchase by the fact that when I wove with all-linen yarn, I loved it.  Not many weavers can say they may one day weave with linen as fine as 40/2 and believe themselves.  Too, the little bits of different colors are just what I need for rosepath.  As soon as I realized that I can weave ANY 8-shaft figured rose-path (number of treadles being no object on my table loom), I began wondering how I was going to get hold of a bunch of different colors of linen and cottolin for the pattern weft.  Serendipity!

Rosepath is a threading I was considering for my Pics to Picks project.  Rosepath ground cloth, with a woven net overlay for a trellis, and crewel-embroidered flowers.

But considering how far I’ve come on my interim warp…

Yes.  It’s insane.  The mural towel warp has been sitting like this for a month.  I finished warping before we left town for a trip to see my relatives, during which Der Mann got hideously ill.  I nursed him for a week, then spent a week staving off the same plague myself.

And yet, how can I resist?

Twenty minutes and I could be weaving my first picks.  But there is the garden.  We had to re-grade it last year because water was going into the basement, which left us with a 100-percent bare earth yard.  I got as many plants in the ground as I could in the fall, and earlier this spring, but it’s a drop in the bucket to what’s ahead.  I have supernaturally bad timing for garden tasks.  ALWAYS, when I’m ready to work a bed, or set things out, or harden things off (my twelve trays of starts), the rains come or it gets cold.  A week ago it was dry enough for us to turn over the cover-crop in the vegetable garden and the two beds that take up the whole front yard, but then the sky opened up again before I could get them raked.  If you try to work clay soil when its wet, you just make a mess which will later turn to hardpan.

A “tulip wind” is my mother’s name for the heavy wind that always seems to come right when the tulips are in full bloom, tossing apart the blossoms.  Here it is a “tulip downpour.”  I am not a big fan of tulips, but I do have some favorite cultivars I’ve always wanted to plant.  Actually, my Queen of Nights put on a decent show before the rain took them down.  Really, they were past.  I like them when they fade and open to burgundy almost as much as when they are big, shiny, and purple-black.  A metaphor for youth and age?  Innocence and experience?  The transience of beauty?

Okay, so I haven’t been weaving towels because I have been sick-ish, and gardening, but what else?

An inkle loom.

This was another “weft over” from the guild show.  I’ve been shopping for a standing inkle loom.  Shopping in the sense of “looking without expecting to find.”  They are rare in the states.  I don’t like the Le Clerc cendrel much, because it seems more of a warping board with benefits.  This homemade beast is beautifully solid maple, but I was quite surprised when I got it home and actually worked out the warping plan, that “standing inkle” doesn’t mean “lots-of-warp inkle.”  This one has a maximum capacity of two and three-quarter yards.  I wouldn’t care, but I would like to weave upholstery gimp and edge trims for curtains.  Oh well.  The blue wool I’m weaving off now is probably going to be a hat band.  The main reasons I wanted this loom was for a way to tension card weaving and rigid-heddle pick-up bands, but old fashioned inkling, with the leashes, is quite fun.  You can just sit down and do it while you wait for the kettle, without worrying about your tension or beat being inconsistent if you hop up and come back to it later.

Perhaps you noticed the mess in my messy corner.  A messy corner (in fact several messy corners) is what I have instead of a writing desk right now.  Here’s a close up of the other reason I haven’t been weaving.

I am designing a porch for my dad to help us build.  To replace the 4 foot drop from our back door.  I am also trying to get a plumber to come and do a lot of work that needs to be done before we can build the porch and demolish the moldy walls in the basement.

Tradesmen confuse me as much as the weather.  I like them.  I admire them, especially when they are creative and quick on the uptake.  They come as soon as I call them to make an estimate, spending more than an hour going over the work I’d like done.  They seem to want to get started.  They even ask about my time constraints.  They promise quotes . . . . then?  If it were clear they no longer wanted the work, I could move ahead with another guy.  But it’s this twilit netherworld of obscure signs and signals.  My chosen plumber–let’s call him Ryan, because that is his name–spontaneously emails me an apology for not sending the quote earlier, with a promise to send one soon.  Surely, he simply wouldn’t have bothered to find my e-mail address and send an email if he had written me off?  I e-mail back, cheerily reminding him of deadline, and asking if he can still fit me in.  GIVING him an out, if he wants it.  Nothing.  But then again, a lot of construction guys don’t check e-mail very often.  Meanwhile, I am afraid to nag on the phone because I have learned from experience that that will only confuse things.  If Ryan doesn’t want the job, my phone calls will simply impel him to keep stringing me along in order to avoid an awkward telephone moment.  But if I take his email silence for refusal too soon, and start the whole confused process with another plumber, I’m even less likely to get the work done by the deadline, i.e. when my deck helpers arrive.

Boy.  That sounds a lot like dating.  All that misery I dodged in my teens was only forestalled, it seems.  Any romance–I mean plumbing–advice?

Anyway, designing porches is hard.  I am good at this sort of thing, because I seem to have an infinite patience for it, but so far I have clocked approximately 3 full, nine-hour days of pure thinking and drawing–not counting all the reading I did first, to find out how you actually build a porch, lumber tolerances, that kind of thing.  It is a deceptively simple structure.  The site constraints are the hard part.  It has to be next to the house, but free standing, and I don’t want it to be a rotting, malproportioned heap of crap with no stairs or railing, like the deck we removed before we graded the yard.  I am drawing four different board-by-board plans showing the different views.  When I finish the last one, today I hope, I will scan the plans and send them to my dad.  And he will probably tell me it looks a little strange, and do I really need doubled 2×10 support beams, and couldn’t we just use pre-cut stringers from Home Depot?

It’s a weird situation.  We are renting the house from my parents, but they want us to fix it up according to our own taste, since we are the ones doing the work and it looks like we will be living in it for a number of years before they sell it. On the other hand, they are footing the repairs bill, and they don’t like to get contractors to do things they can help us do themselves.  Hence the need for board-by-board plans, so I can point to them and explain my reasons for every feature I designed, and hopefully still end up with a decent porch, if not the exact one I drew.  I am not a good delegator or explainer.  Paired with a talent for exhaustive, logical planning, that is a recipe for stress.

Which is why I like weaving.  I can do it by myself.

Can you imagine trying to get a loom warped by telling your dad how you want it done?

Oh, yeah.  And I cut my hair.  Sometimes I play a little trick on Der Mann.  I put something out for him to notice, and see how long it takes him.  He is a champion non-noticer.  I figured a hair cut was a good opportunity for this.  No, not the hair on my head, which would grow out again before he would notice it, but the chopped off end of my braid looked so, sort of—obscene, that I just had to leave it on the bathroom counter and wait for a comment. (Just so you know. That paint job. Is not mine.)

Four days.  And then, rightly speaking, it was the cat. “The cat’s on the counter.  He’s found your hair.  He’s freaking out!” said Der Mann.

The next morning it was on the living room floor.  The cat had been playing with it in the night.  The perfect toy: smells and tastes like Trapunto, but can be batted about like prey.


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….