Oh how I hate to take pictures.  These napkins have been done for ages now.  Well, they’ve been done for more than a month, which is a lot less than the eternity I spent weaving them.

Eternity Napkins

Completed February 2, 2012, woven on Spear’s rigid heddle loom.

Pattern: Erika de Ruiter’s “Magic-Step” shaded color-and-weave-effect basket-weave blocks from May 2008 WeaveZine.  I threaded seven blocks (37 tr each) plus balancer (1 tr) plus altered borders (20 tr each) and wove seven blocks for each of two napkins, plus some extra cloth in plain warp stripes.

Warp and Weft: mixture of Spectrum golden willow-bud green and Uki unbleached white 8/2 unmercerized cottons.

Warp Length: 2 yards and a couple of inches.

Ends: 300 plus 2 weighted floating selvedges.

Sett: single-, double-, and triple-sleyed in 9.25 epi heddle for a little more than 17.5 total epi.

ppi: about 16

Width in reed: 17 1/8”

Weaving width: 15 1/2”

Width off loom 15 3/4-16”

Finished width: 14 1/4”

Length on loom: forgot to tally

Length off loom: 57” total, 20” each napkin including 1 3/4” hem allowances, 17” extra cloth.

Finished length: 51 1/2”

Loom waste: 9” rear, 4” front

Finishing: Hot hand wash with long soak, hot machine wash and tumble dry, hot iron, hand hemmed.

Finished dimensions: each hemmed napkin is about 14.25” wide by 15.5” long.


Unless you are a glutton for punishment there’s no good reason to weave this pattern on a rigid heddle loom.  Using two shuttles and weaving at 16+ picks per inch is bad enough, but the main problem is the need for floating selvedges.  On a rigid heddle loom, selvedges can’t float.  The best you can do is thread them in the slots of your heddle (not the holes) so they have a little freedom of movement, then you must remember to twine your shuttle over or under them at the start and finish of each pass regardless of whether your selvedge threads happen to be on the top or bottom of the shed.  Doing this on top of trying to keep track of whether you must weave one, two, or three picks of each color in the same shed–a constantly changing series within each pattern block–makes a lot to keep in mind.  Also worth noting is the constant stress on the selvedge threads.  The twining stretches them out, which makes it necessary to suspend them over the back of the loom with weights rather than beam them with the rest of the warp.

I made a lot of mistakes that had to be fixed off the loom. With basket weave it’s really hard to see when you catch a stray warp thread, and the low tension of rigid heddle weaving makes it really easy to do.

At 17.5 epi these napkins tracked and and were a more open weave than I’d hoped.  The sett should certainly have been closer–maybe 20 epi for 8/2 cotton–but I think there would be an inclination to track no matter how close the warp, because that is how the variable basket-weave wants to behave.  I noticed that the towels in the WeaveZine photo looked like they’d had the bejeezus ironed out of them–maybe that’s why.  Neither of these particular cotton yarns shrank or fulled as much as I’d hoped, but somehow the off-white Uki 8/2 was slightly harder and thinner than than the 8/2 Spectrum even though it was not as heavily twisted, and the Spectrum fluffed up and dominated it a bit after the napkins were washed.  Cottolin might be a better option for a crisp rendition of the pattern, which has a lot of interesting possibilities.


All Hail

December 31, 2009

First, the final Merino Scarf/Hat Trade Report: nothing to report. Feeling a bit like the Little Red Hen, I got online and ordered a boughten merino wool hat from Sierra Trading Post.

We got our first snow a few days ago: one afternoon and evening’s worth, which were enough to snarl the commute through the whole region.  Nevertheless, people tend to accept it in a festival spirit because it is rare. Der Mann and I took a walk while it was still falling. Children had been let out to play in the dark, and there was a pack of giddy, roaming teenagers. A family was sledding on the street by the school; they’d built a jump. A woman took pictures of her snow-covered Christmas lights.  The town’s brand new plow (and first ever; it had pride of place in the 4th of July Parade) zoomed up and down Main Street removing 2 of the total 3 inches of snowfall, all of which were expect to melt by morning.

We walked past a couple of little girls messing around in their front yard, chanting in a mesmeric monotone, “All hail the snow. All hail the snow.” I was about to obey them with a “hail” when they snarked at us to get out of the street. Little twits. It made us laugh.

People who hate freezing weather move here on purpose to escape it, while I am one of those crazies who really likes snow. REALLY likes snow. Clearly, I am wasted here. Dark skies–preferably with white stuff falling out of them–irrationally lift my mood, the way some people perk up when it’s sunny. I joke that I have reverse seasonal affective disorder. I don’t even mind it lying on the ground for months. Not even when I have to shovel. Not even when I lived in New England.

I also like gardening where I can grow peaches and fig trees and camellias, which would be a bit of a problem if I got as much snow as I wanted.

Here is the last Great Granny yarn scarf, finished sometime around the start of December. It is for my English professor half-sister. I still can’t think “English professor” when I picture her, but that is what she is–albeit a very young one with a preternatural talent for getting good haircuts.

Scarf: All Hail the Snow

Plain weave on rigid heddle loom

22/2 cyan Silk City merino, doubled
burgundy worsted knitting wool from Great Granny’s stash
cadet blue worsted from (I think) Great Granny’s stash
heathered scarlet wool, maybe a 16/2, doubled (used it for overshot in my first weaving class)
fat natural wool flamé with regularly spaced slubs

Weft: 22/2 cyan Silk City merino, not doubled

Ends: 77

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit dpi

Picks per inch: 9

Width in reed: 9 1/2″

Length on loom: 70 1/4″

Woven width: 7 5/8″

Woven length: 66 3/4″

Finished width: 6 1/4″

Finished length: 62 1/2″

Finishing: Warm hand wash with chafing and agitation, 10 minute soak, dried flat.

Fringes hemstitched in bundles of four.

Conclusions: Sides a little wavy due to different shrinkage of cadet blue worsted. This is my favorite scarf of the four I made this year. I like the warp shots of textured yarn, which give me a lot of ideas, and the formal symmetry of the stripes.

On the other hand I am sick of scarves. I’m very ready for something else. Impediments? I don’t yet have a working non-rigid-heddle loom I can use without hurting myself (though I’m in the process of revamping one), and there may not be many more projects left in me before spring. I’m perpetually aware of the house reno nightmare waiting in the wings, ready to take center stage as the season changes. I should be ordering seed already, if I want to get my indoor starts going in time, to fill the bare dirt as soon as possible, to keep the yard from simultaneously washing away and being overtaken by weeds.

Anything could happen, though.

I’m not one to mark changes according to the calendar, but I haven’t often been as glad to see the back of one year and the front of the next.

All Hail the Snow! All Hail Two Thousand Ten! Twelve years ago today I was on a street in Edinburgh in a crowd so dense I could barely move, getting my butt pinched by strangers–nice enough in its way but you really only need to do it once. Tonight I will make pizza and watch anime with my favorite person in the world and our cat.

The Ugly Muscovy Scarf

December 23, 2009

By the way you can still trade me a hat for this scarf by leaving me a comment and e-mailing a picture of the hat.


I guess nobody has unwanted merino wool hats just lying around! It also occurs to me that I chose the wrong time of year. I forget how busy people who are putting together family celebrations are this week, as opposed to childless holiday slackers like us.

Which brings me to the scarf / stole I told you about back in November, which I am calling the Ugly Muscovy. Last week it was mailed, received, unwrapped, and much appreciated by its recipient. And that was my last Christmas package, so I’m done!

“Muscovy” doesn’t refer to the region in Russia, which isn’t ugly at all, but to the name of a kind of duck originating in South America. We never had Muscovies when we were raising our own ducks, though we often visited some at a local homestead park. After moving we noticed a pair of them in a neighbor’s yard in our new town. Muscovies are a popular low-care breed for small gardens, as they are great slug-eaters and (unlike most ducks) have a fighting chance against predators, since they roost to sleep. In terms of scientific classification they are actually more closely related to geese than to ducks. Maybe that’s why I never wanted any–they didn’t charm me with their dauntless incompetence the way our Indian runners did. (Also, Der Mann thinks the bubbly red caruncles on the males’ bills are cute. I do not!)

I named the scarf for the inlay: it is a common motif on South and Central American folk textiles. Probably only duck fancier would notice, but this motif isn’t just a fantastical “bird,” it has the shape of a Muscovy duck! I found it graphed out by M. M. Atwater in this July 1936 issue of The Weaver, in an article about loom-controlled leno featuring a Guatemalan huipil–she spells it “hupel.”

I have a small stack of these wonderful magazines. They belonged to the original owner of my loom, and after my shuttles and my antique swift from Sweden, they are my greatest weaving treasures.

The inlay was my favorite part of this project. I thought it would be tiresome. I’m going to have to try some more; I have an idea for a different way to use the inlay circles. I wasn’t as pleased with the Danish medallions, which I learned to do using Robyn Spady’s February 2008 article in WeaveZine. They don’t seem a very stable decoration when you are making them on this scale. For a little color and some textural interest in a fine linen, I can see them being very nice.

Scarf / Stole: Ugly Muscovy

Plain weave on rigid heddle loom with inlay and Danish medallions

Warp: German worsted weight superwash wool.

Weft: multicolored mystery wool, don’t know the name for this kind of yarn where the bulk is wrapped loosely around the core yarn like a telephone cord, without the extra twist forming loops as in bouclé. Do you know it?

Inlay and medallions: fat natural wool flammé with regularly spaced slubs.

Ends: forgot to count ends or measure width in reed!

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit dpi

Ends per inch: about 4 5/8.  I skipped every other hole-slot pair.  First time I’ve done this, and it worked fine with the puffy yarn.

Picks per inch: 4.

Length on loom: 85″ excluding fringe

Woven width: 14″

Woven length: 77″

Finished width: 12 3/8″

Finished length: 74 1/2″

Finishing: Machine wash warm, tumble dry warm.

Conclusions: I wouldn’t call this scarf the ugly duckling that becomes a swan, but I wasn’t ashamed to give it as a gift after all, mostly because I really enjoyed having woven something figured. As much as I love repeating patterns and stripes, there is something about little pictures that pleases me.  The clothes I remember from childhood are the ones with little pictures or applique.

The superwash was educational. If I ever use it for warp again, I’ll have to remember to run a line of machine stitching along the fringe to keep the the cut ends of the yarn from unraveling. (And wear a dust mask.) Its non-shrinking, non-felting characteristics were not useful here, but could be useful combined with regular wool for a differential shrinkage effect.

Parrot Tulip Scarf to Trade

December 16, 2009

Riddle me this: A merino wool scarf turns out prettily, and I love the colors, but the orangey gold looks bad on me. I don’t need a scarf, but I do need a hat. I can weave, but I can’t knit. I hate to shop.

I would like to make a trade. I’ve never tried anything like this before, but here’s how it will go: If you want this scarf, (which I warn you is quite lightweight, small, and fringey–see specs and measurements below), and have a merino wool hat you would like to trade for it, send a picture of the hat, along with your mailing address (so I can send you a thank-you for participating) any time before December 29th. I’m waiting till after Christmas to complete the trade so that you can include any unwanted gift hats. And tell your knitting friends.

My head is largeish. The hat can be old or new. It can be a machine-made as long as it doesn’t have a polar fleece lining. I’m asking for merino wool just because I am one of those people who, while not allergic to wool, has ridiculously sensitive skin. Any other itchless animal fiber would be fine, or a combination of animal and vegetable.

Being a person of stark red-and-white complexion, I’ll choose the hat that takes the scarf by the completely completely arbitrary qualification that it’s least likely to make me look like a radish! So if you don’t get the scarf, it’s not because I don’t love your hat and it isn’t gorgeous.

If you would like to make a trade, leave me a comment (including your e-mail address on the e-mail line where it will be hidden) and say so.  I’ll e-mail back, then you can e-mail me the hat picture.

Scarf: Parrot Tulip

Plain weave on rigid heddle loom

Warp: Lace-weight (38 wpi) coral Australian Country Spinners merino wool yarn with 10% nylon, doubled in heddles; Japanese hand-spun hand-dyed merino knitting yarn, single ply.

Weft: Lace-weight coral merino wool

Ends: 77

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit dpi

Picks per inch: 5?

Width in reed: 7 7/8″

Woven length (excluding fringes): 54″

Woven width: 6 7/8″

Finished length (excluding fringes): 46 1/4″

Finished length with fringe: 59″

Finished Width 6″

Fringes: twisted in groups of four ends with crossover to retain weft, secured with overhand knot.

Finishing: luke-warm hand wash with 10 min soak and some agitation. Two rinses, dried flat.


I used this handspun from Japan for an earlier project and loved it then, too. I’m going to have to go back to ebay and see if anyone is still importing it. It’s a self-striping yarn intended for knitting feltable hats and such, so the color segments blend into one another slowly and are quite long–long enough to cut up and arrange for my own color repetitions and stripe widths.

I need to buy a fringe twister. It was kind of fun, but I stood at the counter for close to two hours twisting these by hand.

Sadly (happily?), I can no longer say my house is a pet-free environment. Though I make sure my velvet friend stays away from the yarn and the loom, he has a way of getting in front of the camera. (He’s not a very allergenic cat. My cat-allergic husband can rub his face in his Howl’s fur with no trouble, but if you have a severe allergy, you’d better pass on the scarf.)


December 7, 2009

I finally got some pictures, so here’s the first scarf I wove in November; not the ugly one.

Scrapple involves cornmeal and organ meat and is not something I’ve actully eaten. I would if it came my way. In my family the term is “hash,” but the principle is the same. Hash is a catch-all word for a fry up involving chopped leftover meat, potatoes or hominy, maybe an onion, and whatever is in the fridge that would not make it too unappetizing. If you’ve got corned beef, that elevates the meal to “Corned Beef Hash.” Otherwise: Ham, Pot Roast, crumbled up leftover hamburger patties. Turkey run through the grinder. Homemade chili sauce and cabbage relish are the proper condiments. No, we do not break an egg over our hash. That would be a waste of an egg!

Since this is one of the last two scarves I managed to squeeze from the scraps of Great Granny’s small stash of wool, and it is meaty colors, scrapple seemed like the name for it.

Scarf: Scrapple

Plain weave on rigid heddle loom

Warp: old knitting wool of various sizes, wound on upside-down ironing board legs one notch back from narrowest setting, then cut (therefore doubled in length.)

From Great Granny’s stash:
pale eraser pink baby yarn
burgundy worsted

From thrift store:
rust DK weight
scarlet baby yarn

Weft: antique weaving wool–very fine, springy hot pink–about 20/2

Ends: 99

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit epi

Picks per inch: about 7

Length on loom: 62 1/2″ excluding fringe

Width in reed: 10 7/8″

Woven length: 56″ (w/o fringe)

Woven width: 9 3/8″

Finished length: 51 5/8″ (w/o fringe)

Finished width: 8 1/2″

Fringes: hemstitched in bundles of four, trimmed to 2″

Conclusions: I wound off all the yarn then composed the stripes by rearranging the separate threads around in the grooves of my rigid heddle loom’s cloth and warp beam until I got something that had some definition and broke up the burgundy sufficiently. This method worked pretty well.

To separate the warp, I used flimsy beige wrapping paper which I had taped together into one long roll. It got slightly crooked. Cumulative effect was enough to stretch one side of warp noticeably. Need some beaming sticks or better paper–possibly shorter sheets.

This scarf is for one of my half-sisters. I don’t know if she makes hashes. I’ll have to ask her. Our mom was more into casseroles than skillet meals; hash was something we ate at granny’s house. Der Mann and I see it as a treat because we don’t usually cook big enough pieces of meat to have leftovers.

Weaving with Superwash

December 4, 2009

The reason I haven’t continued with my to-be-continued band weaving post is that I am waiting on photographs. The way I sit to use my home made heddle involves me, a chair, the newel post, my right knee, my left thigh, and several hands–but I make do with two. I would need a fourth to hold the camera. I could ask Der Mann to take a picture of me, but it is dark when he comes home, and he will make me look fat, and anyway, there isn’t enough daylight in the house in winter, even when the sun is out.

Excuses, excuses! Mostly I just hate taking pictures. I have made three scarves on the rigid heddle loom in the last month and there are no pictures of those either.

Here is a preview of the most recent:

It is ugly. The only way to describe it is “clueless in 1982.”  This is the first thing I’ve woven that I simply thought: Yuck!

Ugly begins with good intentions. I received some nice superwash wool, enough for a scarf of generous proportions.  It is a beigey pink. For weft, I looked in a sack of some other gift yarn and found that it paired well with a skein of mystery natural fiber yarn in silvery white, a little pale primrose, and earthy tints. I had not been able to find anything else to go with it, so I was quite pleased.

By the time I saw that I was making an ugly scarf out of pretty yarns, it was too late to change wefts and still get the length I wanted. I decided to think of it as a chance to practice Danish medallions and inlay.  I hoped that after wet finishing it would not look so bad.

This was my first experience superwash wool. I thought it would just shrink less than normal wool. I put it through a warm handwash cycle in the machine, with an extra warm rinse. No shrinkage. Damp-dry in cool dryer. Nothing. Low heat dryer for 10 minutes. Nothing. Another 15 minutes and it did plump up a little, getting springy without actually shrinking. Planning for warp shrinkage, I had woven way too few picks per inch.

There’s more. Last night I began having horrible allergic nose runnings and itchings and hackings and sneezings that I finally traced to the scarf. Wool doesn’t bother me, nor any other animal fiber. Here’s what I think happened: when I heated the scarf in the dryer, and cleaned out the lint trap–and afterwards handled it quite a bit–I simultaneously activated whatever was used to treat the yarn and released bits of superwash fluff into the air. It happens every time I go back to it, too, though not quite as severely.

Is that totally weird? Is anyone else allergic to machine washable wool yarn? The treatment process uses chlorine compounds and/or plastic resins which are non-toxic in the finished yarn. It is even a hypoallergenic alternative for many people with wool allergies. I would suspect the mystery yarn, but messing with the superwash fringe is what really seems to get to me. (I am messing with it quite a lot because the plies of superwash yarn don’t grip one another, and I am having to re-ply a bunch of yarn that came untwisted in the wash.)

Der Mann likes the scarf. He called it “substantial.” I threatened to make him wear it. Now I am trying to decide whether to give it to a relative who who can’t tell the difference between knitting and weaving–and would like it simply because I made it–or whether that is too much of a dig to my pride. It’s silly, but I have this picture of people telling her with a fixed smile, “Oh. My. Isn’t that . . . substantial. She must be a very . . . creative young lady.”–mentally adding twenty years to my age. What do you think? Have you ever made a gift of a project you thought was ugly?

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….

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

There’s a Cat In My House!

December 19, 2008


Earlier this week I quickly warped up my rigid heddle loom for one last scarf.  The days have been dark, so I wasn’t able to get good pictures before I put it in the mail; it is a Christmas present for my father’s mother, the grandma who compulsively throws valuable things away.

It gave me a little lurch to send it to her because I don’t like to think of it in the trash.


However, the real gift is the experience of opening it up, stroking it, and most importantly wearing it to lunch a few times and getting to brag on it.



Scarf: Gelassenheit

Plainweave on rigid heddle loom

Warp: partial (3/4?) skein of Manos del Uruguay handspun 70% merino wool/ 30% silk singles

Weft: quite old Oregon Worsted wool yarn, Maypole “Nehalem” a fine 3 ply in olive–nice stuff, I wish it were still being made!

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit epi

Picks per inch: 5 3/4

Ends: 52

Woven length (excluding fringe): 49 3/4″

Woven width: 5 1/4″

Finished length (excluding fringe): 41″

Finished width: 4 1/4″

Finishing: Warm hand wash, plenty of agitation, 7 minute soak, dry flat, light iron with press cloths.

Fringe: Hemstitched then plied.

Conclusions:  Manos del Uruguay wool/silk is an ideal warp yarn for this heddle size.  The strong silk keeps it from overstretching during weaving.  At this ppi it has room to get soft, a little curly, and to bury scratchier warp yarn when fulled, without making the cloth inflexible.

For kicks, I was able to calculate my rigid heddle scarf-making hourly wage.  If this scarf sold for the maximum (too much really) it could command in the crafts marketplace? $2.91 an hour.  Then I realized I had forgotten to include the cost of materials.  Or self-employment tax.  Let’s just call it good at 50 cents.

Did I say something about a cat?  Oh, yes…

Yesterday my half-sister stopped by our house after 13 hours en route to my parents’.  She and her grad student husband had been in the car with their 2-month-old baby, their two-year-old daughter, and their adolescent cat since 3 o’ clock in the morning!

“You’ll get to meet Robert!” (the cat), my sister said on the phone, and I had pictured meeting a miserable creature through the bars of a pet carrier.  If they let him out he would only make a bee-line for some inaccessible cranny or streak out the front door and never be seen again.  This is exactly how the cats we grew up with would have behaved.

There was no pet carrier!  Robert rides loose in the car.  “Is it all right if the he comes inside?”  Everyone piled out of the mini-van and into the house without bothering about the open doors.  I asked my brother-in-law whether the cat wouldn’t run away and he said, “Oh, he’s easy to catch.”  Robert and little E started roaming the house.  Robert’s litter box and food and water dishes came in with the diaper bag.

Distracted by the miniature human, at first I didn’t pay much attention to the toddler and the cat.  I guessed they would calm down when they had seen everything.  The toddler did, but not the cat.  Imagine a cross between a grey Maine coon cat and a ferret, with ENORMOUS green headlamp eyes.  Robert dusted the whole house for me, which is to say he covered every patch of floor under every piece of furniture in the first 10 minutes.

Der Mann’s cat allergy is only the hay-fever-like kind, so I wasn’t too worried.  I didn’t think a cat could leave much of himself around our apartment on such a short visit.  Cats just look around and lie down, right?  When I realized my mistake and decided to shut the bedroom door, Robert decided that he needed to explore the bedroom for the twelfth time.  I blocked him with my foot and a big, scary “no.”

He jumped over my foot.  At least our neighbor’s cat Dobo had the grace to look guilty when she was caught, and to argue about her sentence; Robert has the temperament of a commando rather than a petty criminal.  “Verbal commands, feet–pfft!  Shoot first, ask questions later.”  My sister had to haul him out by the scruff of his neck.  The naughtiness only escalated after that.  Robert tried to get back into the bedroom the moment his scolding was over and his neck was released.  Failing that, he stretched himself out in front of the bedroom door like a guardian lion, tail flicking, waiting for it to open again.  He was similarly attracted to the cupboard under the kitchen sink, which does not latch.

Robert scratched the chair, jumped up on the side table, paced and eyed the countertops with feverish intensity; each time it looked like he was finally going to settle down, he switched mischiefs.  It was almost as if he were “acting out,” because he has been trained never to do these things at home.  Can cats act out?  His constant snaky, sneaky monitoring of his surroundings made him look like he was always on the verge of doing something bad. “Scratch?  No, no, not here.  Keep it cool.  Keep them guessing.  Eat a little.  Sit down for a minute.  Play with the string.  Yeah that looks good.”

I jumped up when I spotted him in a pre-scratching crouch inside my loom.  By then my sister and her husband wanted to put him back in the car.  I told them it was okay because really, our place is so small that there was nothing he could do without us catching him at it immediately, and he was mesmerizing, in a way.  I love watching cats.  Even naughty ones.

While we were discussing the question whether Robert could stay inside he started clawing the curtains, so out he went.  My toddler niece cried a little in sympathy.

She was good as gold.  The toy box with the My Little Pony Pretty Parlor is always a hit.  The baby, while much less entertaining than the cat, was much easier to hold and much sweeter-tempered.  The baby has headlamp eyes too, but no fur–you can’t have everything.

We fed them all Mexican take-out.  When they were back on the road der Mann laughed and said, “They’re such a unit!  And they’re all so cool!  E is even a cool toddler!”  He was trying to express something we both found really funny, which is they just sort of function together.  After 13 hours in the car!  Nobody was crabby, nobody was tyrannical or placatory.  Things got done without a fuss.  Diapers got changed, E got to tie a jump rope around her dad’s neck and pretend he was a sheep, the baby got fed, cat litter got swept up . . . and then back into the gypsy wagon; cat, kids, and all.


Three Sisters

December 13, 2008

Here are the rigid heddle scarves I have been working on over the past few months while I give my treadles a rest.  They are made (mostly) from the odds and ends of  knitting wool in my departed Great Granny’s stash.  It was interesting to work with so many strictures: limited quantities of yarn (well, that’s normal; I’m an eeker-outer), two shafts, only one possible sett, peculiar colors.

You may remember my mission.  These scarves are for my mom and my aunts, so the fact that the yarn was my Great Granny’s is pretty much the whole point.  Posthumous granny-gifts.


Auntie Perfectionist, the Master Gardener


My granny thought this yarn had some wool in it.  I’m not so sure after a burn test.  However, Auntie Perfectionist isn’t particularly attached to natural fibers and I know she likes the colors.  I think the yarn was probably left over from something Great Granny knitted for her.  Taking into consideration the fact that Auntie P doesn’t like to wear anything around her neck, a skinny wear-loose-under-the-lapel-of-her-coat scarf seemed like a plan.  The weft is a non-shrinking green sock wool.


To prepare the warp I pulled each individual warp yarn out of the skein and cut it off after one complete color cycle.  This makes the ikat-like striping effect.


Auntie Aesthete, the graphic designer


You know how you can pick out a Frenchwoman or a stylish Japanese just from the not-from-around-here aura of their clothes?  Auntie Aesthete looks like that, and she dresses from yard sales and consignment stores.  She has An Eye.  All kinds of interesting mustards and rusts look fabulous on her.  She wears colors I would enjoy wearing if they didn’t make me look like a radish.


So, it was fun working with the rust and blue, but the check pattern was extremely fiddly to weave without a floating selvedge.  I twined the shuttles and carried the cream and rust threads along the edge, but I didn’t think it would look right to have the blue traveling too, so I cut it off after each blue stripe.  Not an ideal project for a rigid heddle loom without blocks.  The colors are clearer in person.


Mom, the ingenue


My photo does not convey the violent color scheme of this 1950’s self-striping wool.  There was a lot of it, so I think it was even too loud for Great Granny!

I don’t have a handle on my mom’s taste except that it is inclusive.  I remember trying to explain to her as a kid “what was wrong” with things like: a giant impressionistic foral print in khaki, banana yellow, black, kelly green and lipstick red; electric op-art Madras plaids; chinz slipcover lookalikes–in fact most any of the splotchy fabrics she brought home from the 99 cent table at Hancocks.  There was a conversation that went something like, “But don’t you like flowers?”  “I like flowers, just not if they’re too big.”  “This is too big?” “Yes, the blossoms have to be smaller than a quarter.”  Mom recently said that she is glad we are finally on the verge of getting back to the pretty colors and “nice comfy” oversized styles of the eighties.

I wasn’t worried about the Granny yarn being too bright for her, but I did wonder how I was going to put those disparate colors side by side without turning them to mud.

This threading works well for 9-and-a-bit dpi of my heddle:  The multicolored fat knitting yarn goes in the slots, pink baby yarn goes in holes–except when it goes in a slot to replace an end of fat yarn.  Breaking the fat yarn up with the baby yarn makes the fat yarn stripes stand out more crisply, since the ends of fat yarn always rise to the surface of the cloth at the same time.  The extra-fine springy wool weft is beaten at roughly 8 picks per inch.  This picture will probably make more sense than the explanation:


The pale pink stripes in the warp and the interaction with the hot pink weft really transformed the gaudy old knitting wool.  The finished scarf has all the same colors as Great Granny’s favorite pantsuits: mint, fushia, reddish purple, lavender.  I can almost smell the Coty face powder.