Sunday, August 31, 2014

Staring and discovery

When I started to get serious about knitting, to go beyond what was on offer in the local shops and printed patterns, when I became dissatisfied with the patterns in the library books and bookshop books ... I knew what I was doing and why. There was a baby on the way, he is 15 going on stroppy now, but back then he was an unknown thing. All I knew as I wanted to look after him - and for me, with my family upbringing that mean making stuff. So I made stuff - all sorts of stuff, I sewed sheets to fit the refurbished bassinet, and then to fit his cot, I knit things, and later we made food, cooked carrots and rice in preference to buying jars of commercial food.

When I went to knit for my baby, way back then in the dark ages of pre-2000, there were two kinds of baby knitting, or at least there seemed two kinds of baby knitting. I could knit pretty lacy baby layettes, seemingly unchanged since 1900. Cute lacey bonnets, with matching bootees and matinee jackets, in fine 2 or 3 ply yarn, in pale colours like white, lemon, and mint. Or I could knit bright chunky 80's themed boxy sweaters and vests. There seemed little in between. Now I know there were heaps of things out there - but here in the Southern Hemisphere on the other side of the globe - here seemed little else. What I wanted to knit was cute traditional sweaters, in nice colours that were in scale with my baby, If adults wore hand knits knit on 4-5mm needles, then it seemed right that babies wore smaller versions knit on 2-3mm needles, the ribbing and details needed to be scaled down. I found online knit groups, found Elizabeth Zimmerman, found her EPS and began. I never looked back, and discovered that knitting need not be the commercialized kit set yarn and pattern combinations on offer from branded yarn companies. In hindsight I understand the reasons that companies offer what they do, the market and the amount of time and skills of their customers are part of the system they work with. I knew what I wanted from knitting and didn't feel restricted by local offerings,

When I began to spin, I knew again what I was wanting to achieve, I had followed knit blogs for many years, and watched the rise of knit groups online that included nods towards spinning. I saw the amazing yarns being created, I saw amazing things being knit from those yarns and I wondered if being able to spin might answer my supply issues. I still lived in the same place, the baby was older and had a sibling, but the local yarn shops seemed the same, the same thick yarn, intended to be knit on the same largish needles, and following the same conventional patterns. I had discovered online shopping, but also that what arrived in my mail box wasn't quite what I had thought would arrive. And buying online and getting things shipped cost a lot. So I built a spindle, then bought a wheel, then another and another, and spun. At some point early on I realized that there was little connection between what I spun and what I knit, it that seemed less important as I had discovered there was a rhythm and zen to spinning that I enjoyed. I knew why I began, and I knew why I continued, and I was guided by knowing why.

Fast forward to nearly now, and weaving. Some months ago I helped a student set up and use a rigid heddle loom, all the while while explaining that whilst I knew how to do this, I really had not found any joy in weaving. I wondered if not touching the yarn was the missing element, and thought weaving wasn't tactile enough. After helping the student I wondered if I tried my four shaft table loom if I would like it more, I did try and I did like it, so much so that I now have a floor loom, a table loom, a new hobby and I'm enrolled in two weaving workshops. And it's not even four months later.

Weaving I have discovered is a tactile process, it's just the touching happens in different ways to when knitting and when spinning. The yarn or thread is handled a lot when one prepares the warp, and when the loom is dressed, and even when the weft is wound on bobbins - then it is the loom that is touched not the yarn, the loom is touched the most when weaving. The shuttle is used, the beater and the treddles or lifts are worked - while the yarn stays untouched. And before the weaving there is planning and measuring, there are calculations, how long, how many, and these are calculations that should be carefully done if a finished peice is to look planned. In a kind of way the yarn is mentally touched. After the planning the warp is fitted to the loom, and each thread carefully threaded through a path that makes the pattern intended. That is more touching of yarn and loom. In this case a monks belt pattern, which I think is variations on squares, for a weekend workshop next week. I may have bitten of more than I could manage.

You see with knitting you can fudge a lot, as I tell littlest cub when she knits, if you finish a row and there are not the right number of stitches, look at the row and if it looks ok just knit a few together or make a few secretly on the next row to even it out. Not so much with lace ...and some other techniques, but in the beginning you can fudge it quite a bit. With spinning the same thing, if it spins up thicker, or thinner - slow down and see what you have when you finish - it will be useful and will look 1000%better when you knit it up than it did on the bobbin. Pretty much all yarn can make a hat, or a pair of mitts or wristers or even an ugly blanket for the cat to sleep on.

With weaving - not so much, if something is threaded the wrong way, in the wrong place or wrong order - it shows. See the threads here, how evey so many two are lifted - well if there were three or none where you expected two - it would be noticed. And that is difficult to hide. I threaded and re threaded three times - each time 334 threads to get this to this stage. And the irony is that I should have only had 332 threads but I couldn't count properly, and couldn't easily think how to deal with the extras so left them there, my pattern wouldn't be symmetrical. By the time I found I had extras I gave up, my weaving won't be symmetrical, but the pattern should work,

This is where I would discover the error, once everything was threaded, tied, and tensioned, when I wove the 'heading', I'd see three threads where two should be ......

So I'd start again, I'd check to see if the mistake was fixable easily, and each time the answer was not. To sort the mistake I had to unthread half the threads and work out towards the side again. I couldn't switch two threads over, or slide a heddle into palce, so I would undo, and be even more careful, count, and thread and check and repeat.

Which is where I have been for the past week, wondering what it is about weaving that makes me want to do this, to put myself through this. I'm not a careful planning check and count person - so I'm surprised that I'm working on this and undoing things and spending days correcting errors, and beyond that I'm planning to do this again and again. I think it's about being able to - but I'm not sure. There is a an incredible sense of satisfaction when it is all set up and works - and maybe as a mechanics daughter that ticks a box that needs ticking, problem solving and making it work as a whole. Maybe a loom set up and ready to weave on is like an engine in perfect tune, balanced and magic in the working.

But - I don't know why I'm doing this, and why I want to do more of this thing that requires me to be more careful than I've ever been. And that kind of bewilders me, not bothers, not worries, but has me wondering what is the drive this time.

Oh and little cub and I are knitting socks, she knits one, I knit the other and we swap occasionally. Dr who tardis socks - details to follow. Deadline -school camp in three weeks. Underneath is some unwashed spinning, four skeins of three ply - 300g, as before - details to follow.

Na Stella


Saturday, August 23, 2014

I'm weaving ! And my feet are part of the process.

Well, ok, I've been weaving before, but this time I am weaving on a floor loom so my feet get to join in, and the process feels more fluid than using the table loom. You would not believe how difficult it was to come up with the word fluid, I tried proper, real, professional, and active - and none of those words were the right one. I wanted to convey how weaving on the floor loom was not at stop-start a process as weaving on the table loom, the simple action of using feet to change the shed instead of hands means that hands only have to do two things, beat and throw the shuttle.

But the table loom is good, there is a place for portable and small looms. I've enrolled in a two day workshop next month that loos at four shaft weaving on a table loom. No way I could lug a floor loom to a workshop. the second body of weaving is off the table loom now, hemstitched and cut up into cloths. It's a pointed twill weave from the same book I mention below.

I ended up with edges that I'm more pleased with than the ones I started with, about two thirds of the way along the 1.5m warp a slim boat shuttle arrived from Bluster bay.

The boat shuttle made weaving more fun, instead of having to unwind end over end a length of weft long enough to cross the warp - I could just slide the boat shuttle from one side to the other. Truely there are tools that do make working more pleasant, and this is one of them.

There was of course drama with the shuttle, the weft is wound on small card tubes, and I thought I could use my majacraft spinning wheel to wind the weft thread on. Turns out the majacraft spindle is way to thick for the cardboard tubes - and I didn't have a hand or power drill that could be sacrificed as a electric diy winder. I did wind one using a hand drill, one by hand, and one using a dremmel - all of which worked but not in a way that encouraged doing it that way again. So I splurged and spend all my pocket money on a swedish bobbin winder with a thin tapered shaft. I read up on winders first, and there seem to be those who use electric - often a diy repurposed drill or sewing machine motor, and those who wind using a manual winder. Of the manual winders I found enough who said they had worn out a winder - or two - and eventually bought a swedish one. The reports from those people were along the lines that it was good, easy to use, and durable - so durable that they should have bought that kind in the beginning. So I decided to follow their advice - it was expensive - but when it arrived I recognized it was a lovely mechanical peice of equipment.

Here is the full spectrum of selvedges, from the very wobbly first inches (underneath and to the left) to the edges woven with the boat shuttle. Much smoother and straighter. I guess if I can improve this much over 1.5m then over the next 20 or 50 m of weaving my selvedges with be even better, just like a new knitter gets better at making even stitches.

I used black in the warp but avoided using black in the weft for most of the weaving, only adding a little at the end. I wish I had added black earlier - it made the pattern pop.

And here is the all hand all feet weaving, I chose a draft from a library book, The Handweavers Pattern Directory, over 600 patterns for four-shaft looms by Anne Dixon. The draft is on page 67 and is filed under the chapter on Point Drafts, but isn't given a name. When weaving I am sitting sort on the upper right corner of the image, but the effect of the pattern is more clearly seen from the side.

The first bit of weaving was odd (closest to th upper right corner), even me as a non weaver could see that what I was weaving didn't look like the pattern in the book. I checked my tie up on th treddles and found I had done something completely odd. I retied the first and third treddle and surprise, the pattern I wanted appeared. A little part of me was rather pleased I had identified that there was a problem and that I was able to fix it.

The test weave is a scarf for Bear, warped with some pale grey vintage Purls sock yarn left over from a cardign. The warp is going to be made up of wide stripes of a variety of dark grey, blue, green left over yarns, also vintage Purls sock. My hope is that this won't look too much like a left overs project. I have large quantities of some yarns, one is a mint unused skein, and plan to alternate that with the yarns I have less of. That should look at least planned more than a weird accident. The scarf is a test weave of my skills, a learning peice, I know the loom can do this, so the test is can I get the loom to do this.

One of the things people say about countermarch looms is that you can get a nice clear shed. This is the shed - technical term for the opening through the weft made by lifting and lowering shafts - after a wee bit of tweaking. There are I some stray threads, some that sit higher or lower than the others. If I was to push the beater back a little, the shed would look even more open.

The loom has what I think are its original string heddles, colour coded by shaft. The are hundreds on the loom and hundreds more in a bag that look never used. I've adjusted the shafts as much as I can for now, and with the Venetian blind cord I can in theory adjust each shaft a millimeter up or down - but this is as level as I can get the heddles. The theory is the warp should pass through the center of the heddles - but I can't do that as the eye of each heddle is not quite perfectly lined up with the eyes of all other heddles on the same shaft - let alone with the eyes of all the heddles on the other three shafts. That may not matter, for this warp the shuttle glides from one side to the other without problem - so the shed is as good as it needs to be. What I need to do is weave and assess the issue with different weave set ups rather than rushing in to update and spend money.

One of the nicest surprises about this loom, other than it came with boat shuttles, Venetian blind slats ( to use as warp packing), and lots of other useful bits - is how quiet it is. The table loom has metal heddles in metal frames (shafts), and the are lifted with springs,and then when released fall with gravity down to their resting position - the arrangement is called a jack loom. The metal shafts and metal heddles are essential to provide weight to hold the warp threads down below the beam height. The metal shafts need to fit loosely inside their guides, and the metal heddles need to slide loosely along the shaft bars. Simple enough - and in theory a very simillar operation to this countermarch loom. The main difference is in the countermarch the shafts are light, wooden, and are either pulled into place up or down with the counter balanced bits, and returned the same way - a smooth controlled move not a sudden gravity driven drop of a whole bunch of loosely attached metal bits.

In fact the only noise is when I depress a treddle too far and it hits the floor, a soft clunk, easy fixed by getting a feel for how far to depress the treddle or maybe putting a mat under them. The other noise is me moving the shuttle towards the shed and clunking it against the beater ... And I hope the more I weave the more coordiated I become and the less I do that.

And yes, there has been knitting, the secret project is a secret, the cardigan has more of a sleeve than before and I might even be excited about wearing it.

Na Stella


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Both feet together, bend the knees, weight on the balls of the feet, look ahead and ...


So when the loom was bought (yes we are talking looms again today, there is knitting but I can't share it yet) the tie up was left intact. The idea was I could weave using the tie up already inplace without having to worry about mastering the tie up first. That could come later. And I thought it was a good idea, I measured out a warp, some soft grey fine yarn I had on a cone, 3 m, scarf width, with an idea if it worked it could be a scarf, if not a sample, a learning weave.

I wove a little with this warp, almost immediately finding out the yarn was too fragile, too soft and not really able to be stretched across a loom and lifted up and down. Oh well - I thought I could learn from the warp until it frayed and broke into nothing - so I played a little with the treddles and the beater and the winding on, and the shuttles along the shuttle shelf on the beater. Well I tried to play, except when I treddled the warp didn't open neatly, the weaving term was the shed wasn't even. So I read around and thought I would try and adjust just a few of the cords holding the countermarch in balance.

When I tried to adjust the cords it was clear they were not able to be easily adjusted, the knots had been in place for too long. Parts of the cords were green, and stiff, I'm not sure why but wondered if a resin had been applied to help the knots hold, to provide some tack. Most of the knots had become so tight that any effort to prise them open risked damaging the cord, or me as I forced a sharp point into the knot. So I thought about how best to go about adjusting the loom and decided to cut the cords off and replace them. My theory was that in doing so I would own the loom, I would understand how it was set up and be able to adjust the set up as needed. Problem was that all the easily available online instructions are for using Texsolv, a looped cord made specially for adjusting looms. It is not something one buys off the shelf around here and I was impatient. I had instructions for tying up a countermarch in cord for a universal tie up - one where the treddles needed to be used in pairs or groups - but I think I wanted to experience the classic one treddle per shed tie up. I eventually found these, not based on specialized looped cord but simple non stretch cord. A trip to the local hardware store resulted in a purchase of 2mm nylon Venetian blind cord, a good match for the size cord I had cut away. Anyway I had been told that the holes on this loom were not right for Texsolv - so I need to order a sample to test before committing to a full order of a loom quantity.

I followed the instructions, looking up and mastering the butterfly knot, at once trickier and simpler than the picture makes it look.

I then moved on to supporting the heddles and mastering the snitch knot. That one was much easier to understand, tie, and adjust. While I had instructions for fitting the cords - they didn't always have measurements and if they did the measurements might not have been for my loom. So I erred on the side of caution, cutting the cords longer than needed rather than shorter. I can always trim them later.



In setting up the heddle frames I needed to have the eyes of the heddles where the warp yarns would be. So I tied two guide threads from the back beam to the cloth beam ... You can just see fine pink thread in th photo. Looking at it I realised the loom was taller at the back than the front. This is a nice feature that means the weaving isn't parallel to the floor but tilted forwards a little. This, in theory, makes the warp and cloth a little easier to view. I also realised that the eyes of the heddles, the original string ones, dont all line up when the top bar of the heddles are even. I ended up adjusting the heddle frame height so the eyes do line up - but suspect that at some stage I will measure the heddles and buy new ones. I realize that to weave there are some bits that should line up - like the warp threads that form the shed, and others that only need sit where they allow the important parts to align. I suspect heddle frames are in the second category, and the shed needs to align.

Then I worked down the loom, tying the jacks and lower bars of the heddles to the lamms,

I finally finished with two of the eight treddles tied to the lams - at this point I had returned to the hardware store and purchased a second 20m of cord and exhausted that second supply. It was time for eating, and wine, and turning the lights on, drawing the curtains - and this week I will return to the hardware store for another 30m of cord. That would be 70m in total - plus 20m of a narrower 1.5mm cord, which is way more than I would have predicted. I bought the narrower cord right at the start - and decided it was too thin or use, but then when I first ran out of cord thought it would make the tie up loops for the treddles - so far it has worked well. One of the reasons the amount is so great is most of the cord is used doubled, I now see I could have used the thinner cord - which was slightly cheaper, live and learn. I guess if I was to use Texsolv it would need half this amount. And if I was to use Texsolv (if it fits) then the tie up would be neater, here there are so many long tails hanging around the working bits.

And I now can easily adjust the knots - which was the goal of the excercise!

Normal service - knitting may resume during the week, I think loom play is a daylight affair - and Monday to Friday most of my daylight hours are filled with work.

Na Stella


Sunday, August 03, 2014

Finished without even an introduction ... And introducing

Yes, I'm about to show off a finished object, a pair of colour work mitts that didn't even get introduced here as a project, and new and ongoing toys - because I am able to be distracted when I let myself be. Oh the world can offer commonwealth games, our country can compete and do well, the Tour de France can spark yet another tour de fleece ... And I stand back letting others participate. But then when the time is right, when the stars align, or the space and time and interest all present at the same time -I notice something, start to think about it, maybe too much, fantasize about how much fun it could be, how satisfying to be able to do that and fall fast and deep into wanting to take part,

Here are the lastest knits, a pair of selbu inspired mitts, Wintergreen gloves by Cailyn Meyer. Knit with a strand of colour change yarn the traditional black and white patterning of selbu gloves becomes a faux-isle inspired pretty pattern. I had the left overs of a skein of Regia design line Kaffe Fassett and wanted to use them in something worthy of the colours.

Ravelry helped me find this pattern, what did I do before ravelry? The mitts are straightworward, knit on 2.25mm (pattern calls for 2mm but I wasn't in a hurry to go smaller just yet), and very pretty.

The palms are patterned in a checkerboard, and I did my best to have the two runs of colour match - my tension must be a little different as when I finished the second one there was the beginnings of the next colour just staring to appear in the last row of colour work.

For the geek-knitters here is the inside. Two things to point out, mid way up the red colour work my cream floats are a tad loose - but better that than too tight. And the charted pattern is fantastic at setting float length, I think there are only two rounds where I had to manually secure a long gloat, and on 2.25 mm needles I call a long float anything over 4 or 5 stitches. YMMV.

When I started knitting this I did as I always do, I worked the all the thumb gusset increases on the palm needle. Charts never indicate where to divide the work on two or four needles and I tend to leave the work divided on two circs as it was split when I joined and worked in the round. Mid way through the thumb gusset I became unhappy with the look of the increases at the edge of the gusset - although looking at the photo now I can't see why. Anyway at the time I theorized that the band of white being just at a gap between needles was making it hard to be consistent with my tension and the colour work - so I frogged and began again. My new and improved strategy was to divide the work onto each half of the circular (magic loop) down the center of the thumb gusset.

Workd well, the increases and colour work either side of the thumb gusset are now more simillar. Splitting the gusset did have the effect of making me think the gusset was far to small - but that was just me only seeing half the stitches at any one time. I think I may have an extra stitch between the chart and the thumb of the right hand mitt, which would explain my stitch count being out by a wee tiny stitch or two at the top, but it's always hard to read charts split over three places to show the introduced gusset stitches,

Anyway a fastest knit, three weeks with some other knitting on the side, and lovely to wear.

And the other thing, the thing I've jumped into with both feet, and hands and head and heart ... and mind, or maybe without my mind. Weaving. Last post I was weaving away on the little structo 600 table loom, well I warped it up again with stripes in mercerized cotton and played. This time I warped the heddles with a point twill weave and that gave me more opportunity to play. I went to the library and cleaned out the four shaft weaving books to guide my play.

I put on a 2.5-3m warp, which when the weaving is only 12" wide is a long warp to play with, too narrow to be a dish cloth, too thin to be one as well - it's 22/2 cotton. Anyway I've had fun - and frustration, fun with the actually being able to plan, set up and execute a woven fabric that makes use of four heedles. Frustration at the slow way that working with shafts controlled by individual levers is on a table loom, it keeps your hads busy and means that you have to constantly stop to put down the shuttle and change the shaft positions before picking up the shuttle again.

So after much debate, many questions of the weavers I know, and opinions asked and visits to weavers arranged - this came home Saturday. It's a Loman loom, made sometime in the 1970's in New Zealand, weaves 90cm wide, fits into our 'other lounge', the one named drawing room on the 1939 plan, as if a workers three bedroom brick suburban house with a 300 square foot print required a drawing room ... The room that one cub has to pass through to get to their bedroom. The room that becomes the dumping room, the room into which a loom has been dumped.

So it's a Loman, and the seller told us of how it travelled to the South Island on the roof of their car, a small car with two young children and two Samoyed dogs, overs severral days. They spoke of warps so long they made them outside, around spikes driven into the grass, of buying the loom from the Lomans direct, of weaving much and of competitions entered. The looms previous owner was Lesley - so I think my loom might be known as Lesley's loom.

It has four of these, shafts - with string heddles, all original and more in a bag. Each dyed a colour to identify which heddle it belongs on, blue, purple, green and white. Four is plenty to play with - one of the library books I have out lists over 600 patterns woven with a four shaft. I know that technology means that a new and improved version of these, texsolv is now used - and one day if these wear out I will replace the pm with texsolv rather than tie 600 new string heddles. The string or texsolv, whichever is used mean the heddles are light, and don't clatter with a harsh metal sound when lowered. In theory anyway.

There are eight of these, treddles, kind of programmable buttons, each can be set (tied up) to move a set combination of shafts - at the moment the tie up is a variation which I think is called a skeleton tie up - the four central treddles move only two shafts each, one up and one down, and the idea is to use two at once to create the weave one wants. The outermost four are also tied to provide simple variations of lift one and lower one. It's all working - and there are options to reprogram(retie) which seem to involve much fiddly and detailed floor work under the loom to get it all balanced - so current plan is to warp up and see how it works before thinking of changing anything. Besides adjustments mare meant to be made with a warp in place.

The loom comes with one of the - a swinging overhead beater. Seems these are technically better than beaters hinged at the base for a variety of reasons, including the easy repositioning of the pivot point. It just lifts and shifts to the next notch. That means the beater moves backward as the cloth is created .... This one has a 12 dent reed (12 spaces per inch), which makes weaving sets at a multiple of 12 easier, and a lovely shuttle shelf .... which will be fun to play with. Lesley included two boat shuttles, and I have one on its way from Bluster Bay. so I am looking forward to playing with those on this (the new ones are too large for my table loom). She also included old Venetian blinds as warp packing, and stick shuttles, and lots of other things like the pins tabs lock the jacks in place (those are the sorts of things that often get lost when a loom is used and moved).

All of those bits make me excited to play with this loom, which also comes with two sets of these - lamms. For this is a countermarch loom which is when set up should be effortless to treddle, the weight of the heddles and treadles should be perfectly balanced by the lamms, one set lifts some shafts when a treadle is pushed, while the other lamm lowers the remaining shafts. The theory and practice for those who have mastered this system is lovely open even taut weaving sheds, the shed being the space the shuttle moves through .... And that is where it gets slightly scary. As a newbie - I need to 'get my head' around all of those bits and how the strings connect and hand each one in balance with all the others and be able to change as needed to what do what is needed for what I want to weave.

Deep breath and baby steps - I've already put Lesley the loom together, and everything moves as it should, I've polished the wood that won't touch yarn/thread, and now need to put a warp on her, or 'dress the loom'. Just as well there is knitting and spinning to fall back on :)

Take care