Tangled Skein | Oatmeal

I’m working on my second project with the goal of not making as many mistakes this time around and working on improving my weaving habits rather than anything fancy: warping, sleying, wrapping yarn on the shuttle, weaving, beating and getting nice-looking selvedges that aren’t too loopy or too tight. Of course, it isn’t perfect and I don’t expect to be on my second project, but I’m starting to get the feel of it; although, I do seem to keep finding new ways to make mistakes.

To keep it simple, I made another scarf and, instead of worrying about multiple yarns and colors, I kept it to a single color of yarn, oatmeal. But, to make it interesting, I went with the wool I’d picked up recently and, let me tell you, that is an experience itself. The cotton yard was a lot less stretchy than this wool and, once I had the tension cranked tight it stayed tight. With the wool, the yarn stretches and I lose tension on the warp, which makes slipping the shuttle through the shed a little more difficult. I find myself cranking the tension every ten or so minutes. My edges are tighter on the selvedges, but the lines are a little, umm, variable. But I like the look and the feel of the result and I think it’ll be a nice scarf for someone (probably end up being mine unless one of the kiddos adopts it before winter comes).

I think I’ve put in about four hours, maybe five, so far. And I am thinking another two hours or so. I want desperately to explore other things than the normal weave, but I also sense I really need to get this down before I attempt anything too complicated. And so, scarves I suspect, with be the primary product moving forward.

I’m still enjoying it, so it doesn’t look like a waste of money. I don’t know that I could do it nightly, but who knows?

Tangled Skein | And then he laid down his shuttle…

Disclaimer: I am about as much of a novice as you can get with respect to weaving. My artistic experience is largely in music and writing (and, previously, espresso and a career in hair-styling). I have not been typically drawn to “handsy” artistry, but took up weaving to satisfy an urge to try it out over the past 30 years. Anything written in my “Tangled Skein” posts should read with that consideration in mind. I am not an expert and I may have misleading or inaccurate information as I explore and experiment. That said, I hope others can learn something from my folly as they read the unvarnished exploration of those urges.

Well, I lost about a foot of length due to my sorry warping skills, but my first weaving project is complete.

I’d gotten down to the wire when I realized just how poor my warping tension at the back end had been. It was a bit of a mess, with threads jumping all over the back warping stick and making a tangled disaster. Chock it up to inexperience… So, rather than fight an increasingly useless battle, I sacrificed about a foot of length on the scarf and now have one that is closer to four feet in length than the targeted five to five-and-a-half feet (shrink is something that can be tested ahead of time, but I didn’t to a test scrap to find out and probably won’t in the future because I am less interested in perfection than some people).

Here is the off-the-loom result. I found one significant flaw; but honestly, I think it adds character and charm (not shown).

more of the fringe
more of the pattern, less of the fringe

I wet-finished the cloth, but it is still drying. Some of the gaps between the weft and the warp have filled in and it looks more like cloth than a net.

As a first effort, I am pleased. If I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get it done before need to go to bed, I’d try to do another scarf with the nice brown wool I found (and tan, now), using a different pattern (maybe a hound’s tooth pattern).

Tangled Skein | Slow, but…

Disclaimer: I am about as much of a novice as you can get with respect to weaving. My artistic experience is largely in music and writing (and, previously, espresso and a career in hair-styling). I have not been typically drawn to “handsy” artistry, but took up weaving to satisfy an urge to try it out over the past 30 years. Anything written in my “Tangled Skein” posts should read with that consideration in mind. I am not an expert and I may have misleading or inaccurate information as I explore and experiment. That said, I hope others can learn something from my folly as they read the unvarnished exploration of those urges.

Well, you can say I am improving. A bit.

The big box yarn supply was out of the black yarn I was using and needed to replace after using some of it to widen the scarf I was working on, so I ended up getting some more teal and decided to play around with an asymmetrical “plaid” of alternating blocks of 28 black rows with 10 teal rows on the weft. I figured, not only will it give the pattern more “texture” in terms of colorscape, but the asymmetry might give the scarf a bit of visual “motion” that might be lost in a standard even-row composition. I might also be talking out of my ass, but I do tend to lean towards asymmetry when I do things (loved it when I was allowed to cut asymmetrical haircuts, for example) . To me, odd numbers in art and unbalanced looks feel more active. I am not a visual artist, I know very little about any theories about the matter — I just know how it feels to me. Also, for being involved in science and a field that strongly favors balance, I have never much cared for balance in these things and, while I could have used a 30:10 (3:1) distribution of weft counts, I just plain didn’t want to. 28:10 (14:5) adds to the unbalanced feel and I will darned well do it, even if it is only whim.

Here is a picture of about the fourth pattern repeat with about half of the black weft rows woven in:

day 2 of first weaving project

This is still on the loom and stretched out, but once the tension is gone and I “wet finish” the scarf, I expect the spaces to fill in and tighten up. I’m getting a better idea on how to approach beating the weft and setting my selvedges for a cleaner look, but I’m still firmly on the low end of the learning curve.

Some of the wavy look is due to me learning how to maintain the tension as I roll the weft onto the front roller. Those knots that I made too big are making the waves, even though I am slipping in cardboard as I roll it up. Again, I hope/expect those will go away a bit after finishing with a wash. Otherwise, I’ll have to pay attention to see if I can locate the real issue if I am wrong. Those weaves were straighter before rolling up, looking closer to the teal ones in this picture.

A smart person would be keeping track of progress, but I am not that smart. I would estimate I am about half-way done with the scarf, maybe slightly less.

Overall, considering that I do zero crafts involving working with physical media, I think this is a fairly decent first foray. I’ll reserve judgment until it is off the loom.

Ideas moving forward

I was prompted by a relative who saw the previous pictures on Facebook. She mentioned when I bemoaned my lack of consistency and the initial flaws that, in some cultures, flaws are a sign that something was indeed handwoven or handmade — and that they were valued elements in a product as they were a sign that someone’s energy (and spirit) were put into the creation and not soullessly “manufactured”. [She didn’t put it exactly that way, but that was the gist.] She was a doctor with the Peace Corp when I was a teen and worked in parts of Africa that were far removed from what we think of as “Western Culture” for a number of years. I’m thinking she might know a little bit about such things, so I’ll trust this assessment.

And I got to thinking about some of the Japanese art that reveres imperfections, impermanence, and the incomplete: wabi-sabi. Per Wikipedia: Characteristics of wabi-sabi aesthetics and principles include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and the appreciation of both natural objects and the forces of nature. There is also a related concept, kintsugi, which is tied to the idea of mushin (“no mind”), “which encompasses the concepts of non-attachment, acceptance of change, and fate as aspects of human life”.

In other words, I can see some value in placing less emphasis on symmetry and perfection and more on letting the flaws be self-evident. That doesn’t mean trying to create flaws, but to look towards finding “less perfect” working materials than the machine-made big-box yarns. I want to use the “cheap stuff’ to get my core technique down, but I may favor handmade fibers after I get the basics down.

A casual look on the internet didn’t turn up any resources for wabi-sabi weaving, but I think I’m going to pursue this idea a bit further…

Tangled Skein | Being schooled

I knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but I was left with the illusion that weaving on a rigid heddle loom (RHL) was going to go slightly smoother for my first effort than in did. I got quite a lot done for my first evening of work, but I would have made it further if I hadn’t so utterly failed at some of the elements.

The first step was the only part I did correctly before I encountered a massive failure. I tied a knot onto the back warp stick after locating the correct reed slot for the beginning of my scarf (see the dark mark on the wood to the right, even with the knot? that’s the correct slot, with the hook used to pull the yarn through the slot marking it). Then… disaster.

I the crux of the problem was that, working with a continuous piece of yarn for the warp, there is this trick of under/over looping on the warp stick that threw me. I got about twelve loops through before I realized I was creating a mess because I was inconsistent about over/under. In fact, I’m not sure I was doing the under at all. I decided to re-warp the threads I had done already, but failed to be patient about the matter and pulled out too many at once. Then the rest slipped off the warping peg. Then I threw away something like 24 yards of yarn, which were a tangle disaster and needed to be cut away from the reed to free it up.

I almost quit for the evening in frustration.

But, instead, I persisted. And… discovered I was going to probably have a mighty narrow scarf as a result of my efforts. Although I was going to have to make a trip to the store for more yarn, I elected to use my black yarn to increase the width by putting black borders on each side as makeup for the lost yarn. It resulted in an off-center warp to add black on the right side of the loom, but I felt it was worth taking the risk.

Then it came time to roll up the warp (solo, which was interesting, although they recommend having a friend help) with cardboard warp separators slipped in to maintain tension (“interesting” is not the word I would use here), cutting the warp and threading half of your yarn from each slot through the reed holes. Once I found my rhythm, the threading part was actually fairly easy and surprisingly enjoyable. Then you tie the yarn to the front warping stick.

The photo angle is off, which makes things look crooked in the above picture, but everything was on pretty straight. While I’ve not seen guidance on just how big the thread clumps should be that are tied, I realized late that I should have stuck to 10-14 ends at a time instead of these bigger teal ones (below, second and fifth from the left). It made it hard to equalize the tension and, after weaving for a bit, I realized that some of my initial patterns were more separated and “wonky” than I would have liked (that’s the new technical term, I hereby now declare). Anyway, after getting my tensions fixed, I started to weave.

I used some old red yarn to “spread the warp with some scrap yarn my daughter had sitting around in her now-forgotten bin of crochet yarn (she was crazy about crochet and knitting, and then dropped it like a bad habit when she decided to start perfecting her drawing/painting/cosplay skills). I chose red and, in retrospect, I almost wish I’d planned on a bit of red accent plaid in this (between the black and teal and as borders on the weft). But, no crying over spilled milk. However, when you look at the picture below, you can kind of see why when I spread the warp, I probably should have taken smaller chunks to tie down to the warp stick. A little bit of spreading going on as the yarn separates into its respective clump. I’m hoping this fills in and fixes itself with the wet finish (washing the scarf will get the yarn to spread and fill in some of the empty spaces). I’m not sure if wet finishing will salvage my poor selvedges (warp ends). Still, I will cut myself some slack and realize that all of this is really a lot to learn all at once. I’ll work on my selvedges on this project to make them closer to perfection for the next. As you can see, my beats are improving as I go along and find my rhythm, but they are far from what I would call perfect. In many ways, this is a toss-off project. I am just trying to get the basics down so I can not make so many mistakes the next time.

Anyway, I’m being schooled quite roundly by the process itself as I discover that this is not quite as simple as some people make it look; but nor is it as complex as I expected. There are a lot of things to do to perfect the process over time, even on a “simple” woven scarf.

More work on it tonight.

Yarn used: Lionbrand 24/7 100% cotton, #4/medium (Black/Noir #153) for warp ends and weft; Sugar n’ Cream Super Size 100% cotton, #4/medium (Teal/Azul Verde #102018) for warp center

Pattern on warp: 14 ends black/72 ends teal/14 ends black

Weave: simple, 7.5-dent heddle

Target dimensions: 79″ with fringe by 5″ width.

Tangled Skein | Yarn notes

If you recall, about a week ago I was frustrated as a newb guy trying to get into weaving by the lack of comparisons with different yarn lingo and parity with the online sales, which seemed to throw much of the jargon out the door.

Here’s a tidbit of info I found in case others stumble onto this page looking for similar information (wool and cotton and synthetics may all be slightly different). I don’t know how accurate this is and I can’t recall where I jotted it down from:

  • 8/2 yarn is roughly the same as #0 lace yarn
  • 5/2 yarn is roughly the same a #1 sock or fingering yarn
  • 3/2 yarn is roughly the same as #3 DK yarn
  • “Worsted” weight is roughly #4 yarn [personal discovery, store visit]

I had purchased some 8/4 yarn based on a website recommendation for newbies using 8-dent heddles but, when it arrived, it is a pretty damn small diameter. I’ll use it, but not until I get a 12.5- or 15-dent heddle (thinking of getting 2, 12.5-dent heddles for my first set after I find my mojo so I can weave some finer fabrics).

So, for a newbie like myself (and working on the 7.5- or 8-dent single heddle), getting #3 or #4 yarn from the big-box stores is all someone needed to say. For some reason no-one says it. “Worsted” and “DK” are what is referenced, which I found very few stores online using either in their yarn description, e.g., JoAnn uses “medium” and eschews most number systems completely, or some would be listed as DK (or worsted), but not all in the same “weight” group for other vendors. Only weaving stores used the X/Y system, but no one told me, for example, that 3/2 would probably be a good starter yarn for my first loom.

I also discovered that the whole “must use weaving yarn for your warp” was more than slightly anal retentive. Almost all the earthy folk say that as long as it doesn’t bust easily, any thread will do because there is far less tension on the warp on a rigid heddle loom than on bigger looms.

And I did consider I was maybe being dense, but I saw others on FB groups asking similar questions.

So, here you go, a total amateur who has yet to even try weaving anything, trying to decipher things so you don’t have to. I apologize for any misinformation above and I will correct it (if I remember to) as I continue to learn. Any errors are completely unintentional.

Tangled Skein | And so it begins…

I’d about given up hope of the loom arriving today when I saw the FedEx tracking had not updated since this morning and the location of the loom was “on van for delivery” since 2am, local. Usually, I get some kind of estimate as to the delivery time part-way through the day and none had been forthcoming. Then, the dreaded “Delivery date: Pending”.

For the record, FedEx used to be a pretty reliable delivery service in our area but, lately, the estimated delivery dates have been woefully off by one or more days in the past few years and the “Pending” note at the end of the day usually means, in the best case, “whoops, delivery tomorrow” and every once in a while, “Dammit, we lost track of your package”.

So, hangdog, I decided to see how many days needed to elapse before the seller would fix a missed delivery.

And the truck drove up.

I was joyous again! At least until I picked up the package and heard a major shifting sound, which never sounds good. I almost cried when I opened the box (melodramatic much, Michael?) and saw:

“warped” end

Interesting enough, absolutely nothing appeared damaged when I opened the box. I was sure I was going to find kindling rather than a loom. Instead, all of the parts seemed in awesome condition:

inside the crumpled box

Aside from a bit of cardboard that had been thrown from its place to protect a metal pin sticking out of one of the side panels, everything was in place and passed muster — I’ll mention, however, that the wood they used, New Zealand Silver Beech hardwood is fricking hard. I was glad for the predrilled pilot holes, as this stuff would have SUCKED to work with otherwise and I’m pretty certain you wouldn’t forget a good rap on the head if one was applied there. And yet, it’s pretty light (I’m used to hardwood being closer to oak, which weighs a ton in comparison).

Here are wood parts supplied:

from L to R: two shuttles, two warping sticks, cardboard warp spacers, right loom side, reed support blocks, warping post and block, left loom side, back rail, front rail, reed, two rollers

It also came with some hardware, plastic cogs and pawls, table clamps, a plastic threading hook (boo!) and some literature:

clockwise from “north”: first project (scarf) and manual, sandpaper for those rough spots, an Ashford catalog, Ashford-publication The Wheel, assembly instructions.

The assembly went pretty well, and would have gone more efficiently if I had actually read the instructions which (for once) were written in competent English and addressed several of the pitfalls I actually created for myself. I learned quite quickly that I could trust these instructions instead of basically ignoring them and looking at the pretty pictures to guess how to assemble the thing. So, anyone reading this — you can actually understand the assembly instructions from Ashford and they have helpful hints on how to put it all together.

Needless to say, I won’t be warping anything tonight. I turn back into a pumpkin in less than half an hour and I already lost a glass slipper.

Quick details and then I’m off to fight dragons in my dreams: this is a Ashford 24″ Rigid Heddle Loom that comes with a 7.5-dent heddle and (with additional purchase of about $12 US) direct warping on the underside.

G’night and let the adventuring begin.

Tangled Skein | First Project

I think I already mentioned that I’m going for a “normal” weave on a simple scarf for my first project. I had bought some yarn from the same place as the loom, knowing it was, bare minimum, suitable yarn, but I’ve discovered some more information, so I have plans to run over to one of the big-box stores tomorrow to pick up different yarn that will be suitable, mostly because I am told it will be soft and, well, I want to have a supply of choices for future work anyway. My next project will likely be a rug for the patio door, or a scarf for one of my daughters who likes to wear them in the house and school during the winter months.

Anyway — here are the two colors I’ll be picking up tomorrow, teal and black.

I haven’t decided which should be the dominant color, but I’m leaning towards the black.

One of the things I am noticing as I look at other’s projects and try to get ideas is that the color combinations are not ones I would choose. Many seem, well, strange choices. I started joking around with some people I know who are used to my sense of humor and mentioned that what someone needed to do was come up with more “manly” colors to set the weaves to. And then call them names like “Cuban Cigars and Jameson” or “Old Leather Wallet”, or some other macho-sounding names and focus on dark colors with a splash of something high-contrast to the colors. Like teal and black. I jokingly added, “Nothing says I am a dangerous and vicious pugilist like a pink angora scarf,” and that I would call it something like “Manly Weaves” or “Three F Couture” (a reference to Hemingway’s three core plots: Fighting, Fucking and Fishing). I was only joking, but as I thought about it, I found the whole absurd notion appealing.

Honestly, though… If I get into this as much as I hope, I may actually try something along those lines. Not that I’m Mr. Manly, but I’m just not seeing many examples of stuff that most men would want to wear or have around them. Maybe I just like dark and sultry color combinations and that makes me an aberration as far as the weaving world is concerned, but I don’t much care for the pastels, mousy colors and full spectrum mayhem I’m seeing. I like muted. And maybe more men like those colors than I think, but I thought pastels died out with Miami Vice.

That doesn’t make other’s wrong in their choices — obviously a lot of people like those combinations. I’m just not one of them. I also realize that I have yet to warp my first bolt, let alone weave it. But, suddenly my head is buzzing with ideas. And, for what it’s worth, I am even more incentivized to keep up with it to explore those ideas.

Tangled Skein

I’m going to document my learning experience with this whole “learning to weave” nonsense I’m getting myself into and post it alongside all of my other tripe.

One thing I’ve learned already (that doesn’t surprise me in the least) is that this is definitely not a craft attractive to men. Or, at least, they are quiet about it and don’t say much at the various normal places people chatter about rigid heddle looms and weaving. The few male weavers saying much at all are, more often than not, working with the big table and floor looms that allow you to do “fun stuff” with color and patterns. I get the appeal of bigger, badder, better, but I’m honestly surprised at just how much of an apparent gender desert this craft has going for it. I think I’ve seen one guy do any commenting on the private Facebork groups I joined.

I’m nervous and excited — What if what I do is a glorious disaster? What if I find it more frustrating than mindful?

I think I’ll take the approach I always take with new things and mock myself so I don’t take myself too seriously when I ultimately fail to accomplish what I want to accomplish. Then — be happily surprised when it mostly works out.

Anyway — I’m gonna tag this documentation of a disaster “Tangled Skein” on the off-chance other people can benefit from my mistakes and discoveries. To repeat a quote I often mention from Gaiman, I’m going to “make glorious mistakes” and see what happens.