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Posts Tagged ‘weaving’

In which things start getting warped

My new tablets finally arrived, which means this project can move forward!

For those of y’all who aren’t weavers, though, let’s go over some basics first. There are lots of subtleties and refinements and differences depending on what kind of weaving you’re talking about, but at its core, weaving is about having threads pass over and under each other in order to make fabric.

In the kind of weaving I know how to do, here’s how you do that: first, you put the warp threads on your loom. These are long, each one forming a big loop. The weft thread is wrapped around your shuttle and passed back and forth at right angles to the warp threads. But for this to create fabric, it needs to go over some of the warps and under some of the others. Then, on the next pass, that needs to change — maybe not every thread (this is how more-than-binary patterns happen), but enough to get solid material out of it.

Very primitive looms require you to make that change manually, selecting each thread by hand. An inkle loom, though, achieves this by alternating leashed and unleashed threads. The unleashed ones move up and down freely, while the leashed ones are held in place by pieces called heddles. First you push the unleashed threads down below the leashed and pass the weft through; then you push them up to the top and pass it through again. Rinse and repeat. Looms are, in a basic sense, devices for 1) holding your warp threads while you work and 2) creating that shifting gap between them, which is called the shed.

On a card or tablet loom — like the kind I’m about to start using — it’s a little different. As you’ll see in a moment, all of the threads can move; they’re passed through the holes in the tablets, and by rotating those (collectively called a deck), you change which ones are above or below the shed. I’ll show how that works once I get started weaving . . . but Step One is to warp the loom.

Here’s the advantage of me having had to wait for my new tablets: it gave me time to think. Since I have the sort of brain that pre-games things, I realized that some of the memories I have of warping my inkle loom are not quite going to apply to this style of weaving.

The heddles I use on my inkle loom are just loops of string, hooked onto a peg, passed over the thread, and then hooked again. I can run the warp thread around the loom, pause to wrap a heddle over it if it’s supposed to be leashed, then keep going until I’m done warping that color for the time being, at which point I cut the thread and tie the whole thing off. Or if I’m just putting in, like, one or two threads of another color, I can wrap the one I was using around a peg, add the new color, then unwrap the previous one and keep going. Don’t worry if you don’t quite follow what I mean by that; the relevant point here is that I can just keep pulling thread off the skein for quite a while before cutting it. But on a card loom, the thread has to go through a hole. That’s not really going to work when what I’m holding is an entire skein!

Also, it was my habit in the past to go down first in warping: start at the front peg (you have to start there), run whatever course I’ve chosen along the bottom of the loom, then come over the top before I add the heddle, tie it off, etc. But since I need to pass the loose end of the thread through a hole in the card, and since the cards go at the top of the loom, it makes more sense to reverse my habitual course. That’s fine; it’s just going to feel weird. And then I’ll have to cut each thread off so I get a loose end again, rather than being able to warp continuously.

Which means this is going to be . . . a hassle.

Let’s get started!

a tablet loom with one card's worth of threads warped on it

a tablet loom with one card's worth of threads warped on it

One card down, lots of cards to go. As you can see, there are four threads passing through it, one per hole; you may also have noticed the edges of the card are color-coded. That’s because most of these will not have all four threads be identical, and once the cards start rotating, you need a way to keep track of which threads have gone where. Traditionally the holes are lettered A, B, C, D — which these lack — but it’s easier to see what you’ve got if you mark the edges; the ones I inherited from a friend (which do have the letters) had a highlighter run over them for that purpose.

three stacks of tablets for weaving, one set of cards smaller than the other two

I wasn’t paying close enough attention when I bought the new ones; they are tiny compared to the ones I got from my friend. I have no idea if I’ll wind up regretting that: they’ll probably be easier to turn (especially since they’re laminated), but the shed they create is much smaller. We’ll see.

a tablet loom with four cards' worth of threads warped on it

That’s four cards warped, with the second color now showing up. We’re on our way!

Since I complained above about the inkle-weaving habits that don’t apply here, I should note one that does: I remembered, while waiting for the tablets, that it’s good to check the loom from the side before you finish tying off a thread, to make sure you didn’t accidentally pass over a peg you should have gone under or otherwise screw up the placement. For this enterprise to work, all the warp threads need to be the same length, running along the same path. I already caught one place I’d almost messed up, so that precaution is worth the effort.

My next update will come when I start weaving. How long will the rest of the warping take? Who knows! I am out of practice at this stuff; I will have to be much more meticulous to make sure I put the right colors in the right places and also in the right threading direction (because on some cards it will run front-to-back instead of back-to-front)*; and also I’m not young anymore, but warping is still most easily done on the floor, which my back starts to dislike after a while.

*Yyyyyeah, so, I warped two more tablets after scheduling this post and then figured out that I had a flaw in my draft, the fixing of which requires me to thread tablets 4-6 down instead of up. HOWEVER! Before I resigned myself to either cutting twelve threads off the loom or painstakingly untying them and redoing them no matter which method I chose, I realized that I could solve this problem with trivial ease by just flipping the cards around and rotating them a quarter-turn to put the single white thread each one of them contains back where it needs to be. If I were doing anything more complex than the pattern I have in mind, this would be a nightmare, because it messes up that color-coding thing: a quarter turn that will put the red on top for the cards with the correct facing will instead put the green on top for these. But since my plan involves rotating the whole deck together the entire time, with no fancy variations along the way, I can actually survive this. And it’s less annoying than redoing that whole bit.

weaving tablets, some of them flipped to show their back instead of front

Pictured: not a good idea. But I can make it work.

Anyway, we’ll find out as we go just how wide of a pattern I can actually warp onto here. The threads all have to stay on the pegs; it’s no good if they start slipping off because they’re too crowded. I can (and probably will) put rubber bands or, better yet, hair elastics on the ends of the pegs to protect against slippage, but still, there’s a limit to how wide a band I can weave. I think I’ll be okay, since I only want my final product to be about an inch wide, but the knots at the front add a lot of local width. I’ll just have to play it by ear.

In which the foolish project gets started

Okay, we’re making a thing!

. . . how do we do that?

Step one is to figure out what I want this strap to look like. As I said before, card-weaving can do much more complex patterns than inkle-weaving — but it’s still limited by what you warp onto the loom, so you need to plan ahead. And there’s an extra twist (pun not intended, but very apropos), in that if your pattern doesn’t involve rotating the cards backwards as well as forwards, over time you’ll twist your unwoven warp threads into little ropes. Because I want to keep my first project simple, I went digging through different patterns both in my book and online, and settled on one that’s the tablet version of the “chain” pattern from inkle weaving — same idea, but (because of how card-weaving works) less tightly compressed.

This required me to generate a warping draft. Doing this for inkle-weaving is easy; you have only two kinds of thread (leashed and unleashed), so putting those on separate lines and using different letters to represent the different colors, a single chain pattern looks like this:

warping draft for inkle weaving

With a card loom, though, you need to plan four threads for each card. Furthermore, it matters whether the threads are warped “up” or “down” — that refers to the direction in which they pass through the card. I wound up making a spreadsheet with cells deliberately shaped to be taller than they are wide (to represent how the threads will look as they’re woven) and color-coded to imply the colors of the threads, and produced this draft:

warping draft for inkle weaving

The letters on the left tell me which hole in the card gets which thread, and the little v’s and carets tell me whether to warp up or down. To weave this, I will first rotate the cards forward four turns, then backward four turns, so I don’t wind up with twisted warps making life difficult at the end of the project. The nice thing about the spreadsheet is, I can copy-paste to make an expanded version that gives me a sense of what the final product will (hopefully) look like:

warping draft for inkle weaving, expanded

Now, there’s a key piece of guesswork going on here, which is the question of width. How wide your fabric is depends both on the number of threads and the thickness of those threads. Back in my inkle-weaving days, I was decent at eyeballing this . . . but that was a looooong time ago, and also I have zero experience with how this whole four-threads-per-card thing is going to work, with them twisting around each other and all.

Is this a reasonable number of cards for the project? I have no idea. The thread I bought is very fine, so I’ll definitely need more than with some of my projects of yore. But I am straight-up guessing with the draft you see there.

The good news is, I have some leeway to experiment. I don’t want to put a very short warp on the loom and just test-drive with a piece I’ll have to throw away (though it would probably be smart of me to do so), but I suspect my loom isn’t large enough for me to weave all the material I need in one go anyway. (Your material inevitably gets shorter as you weave it, because what were formerly straight warp threads are now going over and under the weft.) So I can weave this, and if it’s too skinny or too broad, I can use it for the “equatorial” straps that go sideways around the box. Then round 2 can be adjusted, and I’ll weave the big loop that will be the one I’m holding in my hand.

But this has introduced one wrinkle to the process. When I originally made my draft, it was narrower — an alternation of three-and-two on the chain, instead of five-and-four. I widened it upon receiving the thread and realizing how slender it was. Alas, I do not own enough cards for the wider draft; I have had to order more from Etsy. I’m waiting on those to arrive . . . and then the warping can begin!

In which the author embarks upon a foolish project

I have in my possession a lovely “writing box” from Galen Leather. (If this looks familiar to some of you, yes, it’s because Yoon Ha Lee also owns one. He posted about it, I put it immediately on my wish list for future gifts, and eventually it came back into stock, whereupon my husband got it for me.)

Galen Leather writing box, open to show pads of paper and fountain pens

I have only one real complaint about the box, which is has to do with the strap. It snaps around the box, and while over time the use of the strap has caused the leather to stretch a little and make snapping easier . . . it’s still an annoyance, requiring me to carefully line up the various bits.

Galen Leather writing box, closed with a leather strap snapped around it

After taking the box to the Sirens conference and wrestling with it there, I had an idea for an alternate design: rather than something that holds by snapping closed, why not what amounts to a kind of net bag that can just slide over the box?

This led my thoughts in . . . certain directions. Before I chased that particular rabbit, though, I needed a proof of concept. So I went to the store, bought some sturdy woven strapping, and sewed an example of what I had in mind.

Galen Leather writing box, closed with a cloth strap drawn around it

Yep, that works. Took the box to Worldcon and found this approach much less annoying than the snap-shut leather strap. But, well. It isn’t very attractive, is it?

. . . I can fix that.

Probably very few of you know that I know how to weave, because I haven’t done it since, uh. <does some math> <carries the one> . . . 2004? Give or take a year? Let’s just say I haven’t done it in a Rather Long Time. And specifically, what I know how to do is inkle weaving, a method that is ideally suited for producing long, narrow strips of material.

But. Inkle weaving, while useful, is also limited. At its core, it produces a binary pattern: one row of the material will look like A, the next will look like B, and then rinse and repeat until you run out of thread warped on your loom. The technique of pick-up weaving lets you break up the alternation, but it’s still limited, and it has a downside; “picking up” a given thread means it doesn’t get secured by its over-and-under dance with the weft, and the more rows you pick it up for, the longer it’s left floating above the fabric (and the less actual fabric there is in your piece, just a weft thread shooting through the void). So you can’t do very complex patterns with inkle weaving.

Meet my friend.

convertible inkle/card loom

This is one of my looms. (I have three. Yes, I know I haven’t woven anything in nearly twenty years. Shut up.) It’s nice and sturdy and it has a pocket to put the shuttle in, but for our purposes here, the reason I’m showcasing this one is that it has a very interesting feature. That vertical central post?

That can be removed.

And when you remove it, you don’t have an inkle loom anymore. Instead you have something that can be used for card-weaving.

Card-weaving, aka tablet-weaving, is similar to inkle in that it produces long, narrow strips of material. But its patterns aren’t binary: every card has four threads running through it, and by rotating the cards backward and forward, you can change which two are visible (on the top side and underside of the fabric) at any given time. Depending on how you’ve warped the loom and what you do with the cards, you can produce quite complex patterns.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Let’s pretend I actually understand what I said above. I mean, I understand what I said; what I don’t really understand is how it works. The geometry of what’s happening on an inkle loom is simple. The geometry of a card-woven piece, less so, because the threads are twisting around one another while diving up and down through the fabric. And, well. I’ve never card-woven anything before.

I mean, I have a little. Sort of. The friend who taught me to inkle-weave at one point also gave me her battered old card loom with a piece already warped on it for practice (that’s how I wound up with a third loom) and a book on the technique. I noodled around with it a tiny bit, but I wasn’t the one who’d warped the threads onto it, so I’d missed the chance to internalize that part of the process, and I didn’t know what I was doing. Eventually I cut the material off the loom, and it’s been gathering dust ever since.

If I want to weave a nice-looking carrying strap for this writing box, though, card-weaving is the way to do it.

I still have a loom. (Three of ’em, in fact, which is not especially helpful.)

I still have the book.

I have the internet to help.

I am going to try my hand at card-weaving, to make a strap for the box.

Wish me luck. I will report back as the process continues.