Friday, March 19, 2010

Hand Dyed Warp

Before: two inch-wide warp chains of a rayon mill end that resembles tussah silk.
After: gorgeous color.

The process so far: I wound two or three-inch wide warp chains of the rayon, which is an 8/2 weight, and a rayon-linen blend that I had on hand, which is a 5/2 or 3/2 weight. (I hardly have any stash in weaving yarn, and I think that it helps my design approach to have some - I seem to think a little more out of the box.) Following the directions in Teach Yourself VISUALLY Hand-Dyeing for painting a bamboo yarn, I mixed various dilutions of Procion MX in lemon yellow and fuchsia.

The goal was a predominantly orange scarf with touches of hot pink and a golden yellow. Inspired both by Randall Darwall and my love for hand-dyed twill block scarves.
Because I have a 4-harness loom instead of an 8, I can't do the typical twill blocks that most weavers use for this kind of warp - the ones where the color changes with the angling of the twill toward the right or the left. (Take a look at a pair of jeans - that's a twill, and you'll see how the threads seem to march in one direction at an angle.) So I'm going with a pattern called Large Herringbone from Davison's Handweaver's Pattern Book. We shall see. I didn't sample this project; I have been doing a lot of sampling the last few months and just wanted to weave Something.

This is definitely a labor intensive project. Just winding the warp onto the loom took much longer than usual. During dyeing and rinsing out the yarn, threads will get tangled. I wound and paused, wound and paused, and finally gave up and cut one warp end that kept strangling its neighbors. You can see this pesky thread toward the right in this photo.

This is a giant verboten in weaving: you're never to cut any thread but one indicating where the cross is at the end of the chain, and you don't do that until everything else is secured. So far: about seven hours invested in winding the warp, dyeing, and starting to put it onto the loom. Today: hopefully finishing threading the heddles as I listen to Captains Courageous. It's The Secret Garden, but for boys.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sheep do not come in Black, or do they?

Dear H:

According to my yarn shop and the yarn that I ordered for your mittens, sheep do not come in black.(That there is a fiber festival out west called Black Sheep seems to contradict this, but I have not looked into it further at this point.)

What I have observed is that what is called Ebony (color 8095) in Cascade Eco wool is more of a very dark brown. And what is called Black Welsh  (an actual brand of sheep, or is it breed?) by Rowan, a very traditional British yarn company, is also a very dark brown, but with more fibery, what looks like a sheep having brushed against a bramble bush, but softer, bits in it.

Please let me know if dark brown is okay with you. No problem if it is not - I want to knit mittens for you that will work. If not, the hunt will continue for a black sheep.

Also, on the reality show about bosses impersonating workers so that they can discover how heartfelt is the life of a lowly employee, they are focusing on Arlington Racetrack tonight. Thought you might want to watch, or catch it on the Web.


Friday, March 12, 2010


A great opening line from Matilda by Roald Dahl:

"It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think he or she is wonderful."

This is my test for finding a good book: you just know, with that kind of a beginning, that the rest will be worth reading.

And I'm not sure that I've ever read this one. Or else I've forgotten many of the wonderful bits, like Matilda at four years old, walking herself to the public libary while her mother's out playing Bingo every afternoon, learning that she can take the books home (Dickens and Hemingway and Steinbeck), making hot chocolate for herself (she needs the stepstool from the outhouse to reach the ingredients), and then spending the afternoon up in her room, reading with her cup of cocoa beside her. 

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Guild Day

Today was the monthly meeting of my weavers' guild. A good time was had by all.

We saw a beautiful Jaggerspun doubleweave scarf during show-and-tell. Yarn purchased as a bag o' fiber at a small shop, only to turn out to be silk and wool. Score!

Our study group presented our collective efforts toward figuring out the Handweavers' Guild of America Certificate of Excellence. Our leader made a great Power Point presentation, labeled with the weaving technique. This was very helpful both for the audience and us. The audience could see the little details in the small samples. And we could talk about the samples, the techniques, where we succeeded and where we struggled, with the illustration up in front of the whole group.

In my portion, I covered Sample #7 (hand-manipulated lace weaves) and Sample #10, various knots used in rug weaving. Still loving the Danish Bronze Age knot. Sehna, the knot used in Mongol saddle rugs, is a close second. It feels strange, yet enjoyable, to have a first and second favorite way to make knots. It's the little things, right?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

My Favorite Mittens

These are the best mittens that I've knit this winter. Thick. Warm. Comfy.

Cascade Eco in grey and white. Pattern based on the mitten specs for a 5 stitch to the inch gauge in Ann Budd's Handy Book of Knitted Patterns. A corrugated rib cuff, based on the Komi mittens in Charlene Schurch's Mostly Mittens. Double-stranded Fair Isle designs for the hand portion and thumb.

If you look closely, you'll notice that both mittens start with an alternating block pattern, then deviate to different designs, which come both from Schurch's chapter on reticulated patterns in Sensational Knitted Socks and Colorwork Stitches, the Harmony guide to colorwork. Very fun to work on: I just chose a pattern and then winged it, not worrying about where the repeat fell or if it was off-center. I added a vertical row of each color at the edge of palm and back of hand, so that I wasn't carrying the non-working color for more than 3 or 4 stitches to the next needle.

My favorite part of the project was this not-fussing. Since finishing these, I've been trying to knit a second pair with Cascade Eco that I hand-dyed. And can't recreate the mittens: this time I'm doing way too much thinking about the pattern and the gauge and the vertical-striped margins, and it's just not working.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Danish Bronze Age Knot

This is a knot "closely related to a knot thought to have been used in the Danish Bronze Age."
So says Peter Collingwood in the classic The Techniques of Rug Weaving. And as Collingwood notes, it is "extremely secure": this is a knot that will not slip or migrate, once you have tightened it.

I was fascinated by this knot, which was one of several that I was testing as I played with Sample #10: Pile Techniques in the Handweavers Guild of America Certificate of Excellence handbook. This is when craft becomes amazing: that we are still using techniques that were invented in the Bronze Age, which is c. 2300-600 BC. And that some ingenious anthropologist or textile researcher examined knots made by Danish Bronze Age people and did something to preserve the heritage.

I've been noticing that several of the samples in the COE call for types of weaving that one rarely encounters. When, for instance, will I make a hand-knotted rug? But working with the yarn on the loom, looking back-and-forth from the drawings in Collingwood's book, I began to get an infinitesimal feel for what a rug weaver encounters.

My favorite knot of the four tried - Ghiordes knot with continuous pile, Ghiordes with cut lengths of pile yarn, Sehna knot, and the Danish Bronze Age - was the Sehna. You can make it lean to the right or the left, depending on the way that you wrap the yarn around the warp ends.

Collingwood remarks that this leaning quality is used to advantage in Mongol saddle rugs, which were made in two halves and joined so that the pile slants downward on either side of the rider. This allows rain and dust to shed toward the ground and the rug is more comfortable on the rider's legs.

I love Collingwood's tone in the introduction to his book. It reminds me of Marcella Hazan and her dictums about cooking ("Ready-ground pepper is one of those modern conveniences that keep giving progress a bad name. Why it exists I do not know" from Italian Cooking, p. 16, 1979 edition). Here's Collingwood:
Basically, a loom is nothing but a device to produce this necessary warp tension...All the complexities that have been added to the loom are only to save time or effort or to make intricate weave structures possible. They do not alter the fundamental function of a loom as a warp-stretcher.
(p.41 of the 1972 reprinting)
An author who knows his mind.