jack

©2022 Michael Raven

seeking a unique skill
i am (sadly) still
a jack of all trades
master of none

I’m getting decent at weaving on a rigid heddle loom. Not great and I am by no means an expert, although I am still in the learning stages. I’m not sure I want to get into complex weave patterns, but I might develop an interest in those, eventually. Right now, I’m happy working on my basic technique over and over when it comes to the rigid heddle loom and not terribly interested in learning how to do tweeds or houndstooth patterns (for example). Those seem like high-maintenance, low-reward weaving patterns. Like I said, I may change my attitude over time and I really should try to at least sample some of those techniques.

Right now, I have my eye on adding an inkle loom to my collection to make borders and bands for the pieces I am working on. I have to figure out the “how” of the thing works, but I suspect I might have to come up with my own patterns after I figure it out, as I am not finding the patterns I want online or in books. There are plenty of fancy designs out there, just very few in the Celtic/Norse look that I would want to achieve. This gives me an opportunity to develop a skill like what I eventually ended up with when I was crafting shots of expresso, which is about the only skill I’ve had when I felt I was approaching “master” talent levels before I decided I was tired of being a poor barista. I want to reclaim that sense of accomplishment I had with the espresso, and playing around with weaving seems like a good space to work within (although I don’t know if I’d ever aspire or be able to reach “master” status, nor do I need to — I just want to feel like a skilled craftsperson).

I’m still deciding on the extra loom. It’s quite a bit of cash for something that seems like it could go terribly wrong very quickly.

Shawl weaving

©2022 Michael Raven

I finally got over the disasterpiece I had left on the loom for nearly a week and decided to overhaul it and make it work today.

Oh, I thought things had gone wrong with my last project, but I was given an education that I probably won’t forget right away. The shawl/cape project I had set up to do couldn’t have gone much more wrong before I even got to weaving.

Continue reading “Shawl weaving”

Another scarf; a postmortem

©2022 Michael Raven

I’ve finally gotten around to finishing the scarf for my second twin (above, before wet finishing). It took longer than the last for a number of reasons and, as frustrating as those reasons were, I consider them to be valuable lessons.

First, she had liked what I had done for her non-twin sister with the checkered patterns and insisted that I replicate that effect. No matter how much I tried to explain to her that using two batches of variegated thread would probably not result in that look, she insisted that I try. So I did. If you look closely, you’ll see bands of purple/blue/white that stand out in the patterns on the long edges and occasionally through the rainbow pattern. These are the colors she chose and wanted, so I worked with it as best as I was able.

That was the only the first challenge.

Continue reading “Another scarf; a postmortem”

One scarf done; project plans

©2022 Michael Raven

About four or five hours of work later (I didn’t keep track of it) and you have the above result. It’s been over a year since I last took up my loom and I’d only taken on two projects prior to this one. The middle child (elder twin by about 3 minutes) chose the colors (yellow warp, rainbow weft) and I think it turned out good, for my being out of practice and still an amateur. With some exceptions, I am improving on my technique, but nothing I would try to charge for.

Continue reading “One scarf done; project plans”

Progress

©2022 Michael Raven

Here is how my daughter’s scarf started to look last night. She chose the colors, which seemed to work out with this combo. I’m not so certain the other twin will be pleased when she see the colors she chose when they get woven together, but I might be wrong in my estimation. The yellow warp and rainbow weft is pretty much on par for this twin.

Obviously, this is raw weaves, on-loom. Once I take the scarf off the loom and wet-finish it, the weave will tighten up and there were be less space between the threads. I see this as practice to get myself in gear to try and do a 100% self-crafted hooded cloak, once I finish weaving the other twin’s scarf. And learn how to do some card/tablet-weaving.

I have it in mind that I will by another heddle (10-dent or 12.5-dent; my current is a 7.5-dent) to increase the thread density. Then I will weave a cotton or wool (can’t decide if I’m worth the cost of wool) bolt of black cloth to form the basis of a hand-sewn cloak. If I can manage to figure out tablet weaving, I should be able to create my own Celtic border or runework (at least around the hood, but possibly down the front flaps of the cloak). My inspiration is something I saw on Etsy while looking for jackets.

We’ll see if this is all just ambition, but I have a different mindset this round.

Peace weaving

©2022 Michael Raven

I returned to weaving tonight.

Just another scarf for one of my daughters; one of the twins. And I’ve completed that, I will do another for the other twin. Neither is anything fancy or difficult. That’s okay.

After I’m done then I will see if I can figure out tablet/card weaving so I can maybe make a Celtic knot strap for one of my guitars. Or a border for a piece of clothing I think I might try to make from scratch (a kind of cloak with an oversized hood).

It was different tonight. Instead of focusing on “just getting it done”, I opted to not care how long it took and tried to get more intimate with the process, which ended up resulting in a higher quality piece so far. I might have gotten it done tonight if I’d focused on efficiency, but I think that’s part of the problem I had last time.

Tonight, I just worried about falling into the work instead of becoming a machine.

There was a peace to be found there.

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.