My eenie greenie warp (You’re a hoot, Jane!) was intented to help me make some decisions about a project I planned back in late spring: cottolin-warp baby blankets in a Summer and Winter adaptation of the draft “Four Locked Hearts of America” from A Handweaver’s Source Book.  The Source Book is a fantastic volume of old coverlet patterns edited by Marguerite Porter Davison, presented as profile drafts.

Then I developed a back problem which seemed to be related to treadling.  The blanket project stayed on hold while I wove scarves on my rigid heddle loom.  Finally, I coaxed myself back to the Bergman with the argument that the real purpose of the eenie greenie sample warp was to see if my back problem was definitely related to treadling.  If I moved the tabby treadles to the other leg (treadles 7 and 8, the easiest), set myself up carefully, took lots of stretching breaks, and limited how much I wove in a day, would my back flare up again?

The answer was yes.  Two weeks and a chiropractic appointment after cutting Eenie Greenie of the loom, My SI joint is still giving me threatening jabs.  So that was informative.  Also sort of freeing.  I know what to expect, and I know it’s not because I’m doing anything wrong.  (Which makes sense since I’ve used the same set-up since I started weaving and had no problems until now.)   It turns out I’m just the middle-man in a rocky love affair.  “No hard feelings, I hope, Back.”  “That’s okay, Loom.  Stay beautiful!”  



This was my first time working from a profile draft, and my first time weaving summer and winter.  Leigh’s and Cally’s posts on summer and winter are wonderfully clear and to-the-point.  I reread them several times: I don’t have weaving software, and with overshot drafts the pattern repeats are so long I wasn’t about to attempt full draw downs on paper; I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing.  In the same spirit I revisited the summer and winter sections in Mary Meigs Atwater’s Shuttlecraft Book of American Handweaving.

There are other advantages in the summer and winter weave.  It is possible to change the character of the pattern completely and without re-threading by changing a few knots of the tie-up and altering the treadling to correspond.  It is possible, too, to weave all the charming patterns of the old double-woven coverlets on a loom that is not too elaborate for amateur craftsmen.  All in all, this is one of the most delightful things known to American weaving.

Clearly a fan!  Mary Atwater’s notes on threading and tie-up were easier to follow when I combined them with the information and pictures in Leigh’s and Cally’s posts.  She makes a number of sensible remarks:

The weave is beautifully logical and is far easier to thread and weave than ordinary overshot work.

This was very true.  No threading mistakes.  Although…

A different texture results from throwing the A tabby between pairs, and it is necessary to watch carefully in order not to make a shift in the middle of a piece of work.  This has a very bad effect.

Once I had woven off the sample warp, I kept hearing the words, “This has a very bad effect,” echoing in a dry tone of voice.  The fiendish part is just how easy it is to make this mistake!  As you may guess from the difference between my first picture (face) and second picture (back), when you are weaving, it’s really hard to see that you’ve thrown the wrong tabby.  A pick of the incorrect tabby looked pretty much the same to me as a pick of the correct tabby on the face of the web.  Each of those glaring skips you see in the second picture came from throwing just one wrong tabby.

As to weft, Atwater advises,

As usually woven, four pattern-shots and four tabby-shots are thrown for each unit of the pattern.  It is therefore necessary to select warp and weft carefully so that the figures will be of good proportion–neither squatty nor too long drawn out.  The warp and pattern-weft should be of about the same grist and the tabby thread should be a great deal finer.

The one thing I don’t like about summer and winter is the muddied look it can get when the tabby weft is too visible.   For the baby bankets I knew I would want a pretty thick weft, which meant I would use the “brick” treadling as opposed to pairs (x’s or o’s) and thus avoid “long drawn out” figures.  The brick treadling tends to hide the tabby pretty well.  I wasn’t worried there.  But since I was also using the samples as a way to look ahead to some summer and winter towels treadled in pairs, I was eager to see if Atwater’s ratios would be the key to sharpening contrast.

I found that the weft weights and their light/dark values made such a big difference to the overall strength and crispness of the pattern, I ended up trying all kinds of combinations.  A medium-value tabby seems to do really interesting things (medium between the warp and the pattern weft).  My favorite combination for towels was a tabby of very old light bottle green Lily perle cotton (1930’s or 40’s–they call it #20, but it is finer than a 20/2) which had about 2/3 the “grist” of the 22/2 cottolin; with a 16/2 blue Bockens line linen for pattern weft.  It’s the fourth from the top.

Most of the other samples were a little loose at 15 epi, but this one was good–light and flexible.  My favorite baby blanket pairing was also good at 15 epi: cottolin tabby with a 8-ply Finnish 50% cotton, 50% linen knitting yarn for the pattern weft.  Before washing it has somewhat the texture of a soft string.  After a hot water machine wash it makes marvelous cloth!  I’m not likely to find any more of that particular yarn on ebay, but I’ve seen similar stuff in a knitting shop, and I do have enough for one blanket.  In the picture, it’s the pale strip in the middle of the green samples at the bottom.

The darker green pattern weft there is cottolin, doubled and single, combined with various tabbies.  Using a brick treadling (o’s deflect the doubled threads and make the pattern too spotty), the doubled cottolin could also make nice towels with a cotton or linen tabby weft somewhat finer than the warp–this is what you’re seeing directly above the pale baby-blanket strip.  I’d set them at 16-18 epi.

Some other things I learned:

The border I planned needs one more unit and a couple of extra repeats to look right.

5/2 mercerized cotton (the aqua, from Goodwill), ick!  Pebbly and coarse and distracting in this context.  Not a useful cloth.

With a fine cotton tabby, plain old Lily Sugar and Cream knitting yarn makes a surprisingly nice fabric, though I’m not sure how it would hold up to the repeated hot-water washings a baby blanket wants.  This combination would also be a nice weight for place mats if it wears well enough.  (Top in photo.)

Fluffy Borgs 2/2 cotton (intense violet second from top) is not a good choice for a summer and winter, at least not with the cottolin.  It is very soft, but the linty halo worsens summer and winter’s tendency to look muddy.

The dark green sample (third from the top) is Poppana, a bias-cut cotton tape that fuzzes up like chenille when you wash it.  This stuff fascinates me.  I had visions of little summer and winter Poppana bath mats when I bought it last spring, but as I feared, I can’t really use a poppana shuttle with the Bergman.  A) I could barely squeeze it between the top and bottom of the shed and B) I had to weave with my fell WAY further from the beater than works well on my loom.  I could feel the beater bearing down on it from from the top, instead of hitting it squarely.  This might not have mattered with a different weft, but I really needed to be able to hammer at that Poppana to pack it in, and I couldn’t!  Poppana comes in disks, making it easy to handle; it would be a waste to wind it from the disks onto a rag shuttle or quills.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that.  Any thoughts?

I suppose the Poppana question is moot if weaving on my Bergman is going to keep hurting my back.  I found a forum where someone who had owned many looms remarked that her Bergman loom was much heavier to treadle than other countermarches.  This doesn’t surprise me: the stubby lamms, short castle, front-hinged treadles, and all that nice, dense Douglas fir are the culprits; it’s designed for sturdiness and precision rather than mechanical efficiency.

The eenie greenie warp confirms my treadling fears, and what do I do?  I immediately wind an 8-yard rayon warp for pillow tops and a couple of stoles in “Four Locked Hearts.”  It’s pre-sleyed and ready to beam on now.  Apparently I am in denial.


Wisconsin Cousin

September 22, 2008


Okay, the navy merino scarf warp!   I’m going to show you a scarf per post, in the reverse of the order I wove them.  

This one was for my cousin who just moved to Wisconsin for school.  I know he likes scarves because he wrote a song with a scarf in it, and a scarf was part of his costume when he had a band.  It was such a pleasure making something I knew would be used, for someone whose taste I admire.

Scarf: Wisconsin Cousin

Warp: 28/2 Silk City merino, doubled

Ground weft: same, not doubled

Pattern Weft: Manos del Uruguay 70% merino 30% silk handspun single

Sett: 11 doubled epi in 8 dent reed

ppi: 23

Width in reed: 14 1/8″

Weaving width: 13″

Finished width: I can’t find my note!

Finished length not counting fringe: 55

Fringes: 2 1/4 on loom, tied when off loom with guided half hitches, or “gathering knots”

I call this pattern “Reinventing The Wheel.”  I wanted to weave the biggest overshot zig-zags possible on 8 shafts, with skips of no more than 6 threads (turned out to be 7), but I couldn’t find anything in a book.  So, I graphed out possible pattern picks for different point twill threadings, cut the graph paper in strips, and started rearranging the strips until I came up with something that satisfied me.  It was very slow.

Overshot was the structure that dealt best with a bunch of mutually exclusive aims I had for this project.  I’d bought some expensive Noro Kureyon at a knitting store because I loved the colorway.  (Now I know better than to walk into a knitting store thinking “I’ll just have a look around.”!) I wanted use this reproachful yarn as soon as I could, and I wanted Silk City 28/2 merino for the warp.  I also wanted the lightest, drapiest fabric possible, yet not gauzy.  And I wanted to have as much uninterrupted Noro as possible showing on both faces of the cloth, but I didn’t want a weft-dominant fabric.

Part of my solution was to double the warp in the heddles, which I’ve heard adds a bit of warp-dominant-like flexibility to a scarf or shawl.  I also sampled the tabby weft to get a balance between not too much bulky Noro, and not too much tabby breaking it up.  I tried single and doubled tabby; 1, 2, and 3 picks between each pattern pick.  I ended up using two piks of a single strand tabby between each pattern pick, for a total of about 23 ppi on this particular scarf.  The Manos del Uruguay is thinner than the Noro.

Unfinished cloth:

After cold hand wash:

The Manos del Uruguay still makes me cringe, considering the whole project was designed to expiate a yarn store sin.  When I came to start the last scarf I didn’t have anything left in my stash that would work for pattern weft, so back to the store I went!  Two skeins of Manos cost me $27.50 with tax.  Knitting stores make you crazy.  There’s 2/3 of a skein left, and it’s very nice yarn . . . but I wasn’t totally pleased with colors.  The navy really cooled all those warm blues and browns and golds I’d admired in the skein.

My cousin likes it, though.  He said–surprised–that it was just the sort of thing he would actually seek out to wear.  High praise!

Wool and Fiction

September 10, 2008

Here’s this:




Aaaand I recently discovered something.  About wool.

It’s warm.

Before you laugh, a couple of weeks ago I added a cotton-stuffed quilt to the cotton waffle weave blanket on our bed to compensate for the cooler nights.  Der Mann and I use different combinations of cotton blankets through the summer months, and cotton blankets under a light down comforter that we can pull up or shuck as needed in winter.  Well, we were starting to get a little chilly again, so when I did the wash I put away the old bedding and took out one of two super-cheap wool blankets I bought at IKEA with the intention of sewing myself a coat.  They are periwinkle on one side and ice blue on the other, warp-faced and weft-faced alternately, brushed to a nice loft; but the ice blue looks really terrible with my skin, and the whole point was to make a reversible coat with a contrasting collar.

“Okay, so they’re blankets after all.  That way I don’t have to feel guilty about hoarding fabric for a coat I’m never going to make.”  I put an IKEA blanket on the bed and covered it with a cotton spread.

That night we roasted!  I pushed off the bedspread.  We still roasted!  Under one wool blanket, after getting cold under a cotton blanket and a quilt!

This amazed me even though I know all about the insulating properties of wool: retains heat even when wet, etc, etc.  Part of my amazement comes from the fact I have worn wool coats all my adult life.  The wind blows up the sleeves and down the collar and up the hem, so it takes careful layering and tucking to stay warm.  Maybe they key is that a wool blanket does a better job of keeping a person warm than a wool coat, just like a mitten does a better job of keeping your hand warm than a glove.

I kept thinking about this because it tied in to something that bothers me in fiction.  I’ve always found it embarrassingly naive on the part of the author when characters charge off into the Northern European landscape with nothing but a small pack and either a wool cloak or blanket to sleep under.  Any novelist using her head ought to know that her characters could die of hypothermia that way, or at the very least be so miserably uncomfortable and sleep-deprived that it would make it’s way into the descriptions or dialogue.  Tolkien made the concession of elf cloaks.

I felt sorriest for the characters in the book The King’s Peace, by Jo Walton, an unromantic portrayal of Arthurian Britain.  The book straddles the line between historical and fantasy fiction, but Walton’s style is so concrete and reportive–nary a whiff of anachronism–that I expected better.  Her main character is a dignified female warrior in Arturius’ (Artos’?) army, and of course nobody in is having much fun (what with it being the last stand of a civilization against the dark ages and all), but their kits and sleeping arrangements got mentioned a lot, and nothing about the fact that everyone was freezing all the time.

The euphemism the soldiers used for pairing up was “sharing blankets,” which they did.  I supposed the extra body heat would help a little.  Also getting out of the wind and piling dried vegetation to get you off the ground, but you can’t always do that on campaign.  As I read I pictured the misery of cold added to the misery of everything else.  I’ve been to places like the ones where the characters were bedding down.  I’ve tried sleeping in summer-weight sleeping bag there.

But after my recent wool blanket experience, I think maybe it wasn’t all that bad.  My sleeping bag had a synthetic filling, whereas a good thick wool blanket or cloak you could roll up in might actually keep you pretty warm if you slept in your clothes.  Maybe all those characters aren’t being passed off as larger than life, with either a furnace-like metabolism or a heroic imperviousness to cold.  Does this mean I have to stop feeling sorry for people in history too?  The Roman foot-soldiers with paltry bedrolls strapped to their 60-80 lb packs?  The Highlanders whose entire outfits consisted of wool yardage?  It opens whole vistas.*

I didn’t like The King’s Peace enough to finish the trilogy.  The plot meandered like the politics.  Walton’s reserved style and fondness for logistics meant that while she gave a lot of information about a lot of different people, I never really got a feel for what it was like for them inside their skins.  I read her later books and found them much better.  Her super-consistent imagination lends itself well to audacious projects.  All through Tooth and Claw I kept thinking, “My gosh she’s pulling this off.  HOW is she doing this?  WHY is she doing this?”  Tooth and Claw is a pitch-perfect regency novel set in a society of dragons.

Walton also writes alternate history novels that take place in the fifties during the protracted reign of the Third Reich, after the English have made peace with Hitler in order to prevent the invasion.  Farthing and Ha’penny are both riffs on the detective novel–a genre that bores me–but they are so well conceived, and come at such interesting moral and social issues from such interesting angles, I eat them up.  Especially Ha’penny: a weakness for theater history is a hangover from my teens.

I’m thinking I should go back to her Arthurian trilogy and see if I like it now.  Fall makes me questy, and I’ve been having trouble finding good fiction.  I’m not in the mood for classics.  I’ve exhausted the work of all the modern authors I seek out, so it’s a matter waiting for them to write more, or finding new ones.  My best method of finding new fantasy authors used to be the informational sections of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies (great for lovers of literary interstitial fiction), but my current library system doesn’t buy them.

Read anything character-driven, literate, and emotionally complex lately?  With magic?

I know, I know.


*  Fortunately I can still pity the Japanese who, through a thousand years of sophisticated culture, living in essentially unheated houses, never imported wool or raised livestock for fiber!  Not everyone could afford silk.  Whenever I watch anime or a film set in feudal Japan, I imagine myself in a permanent crouch over the hibachi, pulling on a fifth or sixth cotton kimono.