An Afghan Weaver Revisited: Helen Pope

I was lucky to have three mentors in my weaving/art life: Dominic DiMare, Jim Ahrens, and Helen Pope. You remember her afghan in a previous post. This post is to show how she inspired me and so many others. Besides the afghans, she experimented with many textile techniques. She founded the Special Sample Service which was a popular booth at our weaving conferences. She didn’t want little dinky samples; she wanted them 5” x 7” or so—large enough to really get a feeling for the textile. Attached to each sample were the directions and notes from the weaver. At first, she asked famous weavers to submit; but for years it was she herself who contributed the most and local weavers (including me) contributed as well. Oh yes, the highest price for a sample was $2.50. She was adamant about that.

Helen wove these bookmarks well into her 90’s. She got great pleasure from seeing how many designs she could invent with one threading on the loom. All 7 of these pieces were on the same warp. Here is what she wrote in the notes for ribbons she wove with the same idea on 8 shafts when she was 90: “There is no end to the fun you can have. Weaving has always been something I do for pleasure. It does not have to be practical or a great work of art.” (See how she inspired me?)

She mounted the bookmarks in a plexi frame as an art piece.

Here is a lovely art piece she made. It’s about 12” wide.

This is a piece knitted with linen thread.

Color was important to her, even with the samples she submitted every year.

There are purple and green threads in this piece. She had a good color sense.

This is a joke—a sample for a dish cloth woven with steel wool!

“Pink Drip” Every year she had one of her “drips” at the conferences. And pink was her favorite color. She challenged herself to see what 3-dimensional pieces she could get by folding one piece of cloth.

She avoided having her picture taken for years. She sat for this portrait by Ranghild Lanlet when she knew an article about her would be in Handwoven Magazine. Orchids were a passion. There always were some blooming in her house. Her family gave her orchids away at her memorial and I still have mine after 20 years. It blooms just after Christmas.

Weaver’s Block? Try a color blanket

While I was taking my first classes at Pacific Basin School of Textiles in Berkeley, I took a class at the College of Marin. I wanted to make a color blanket which I thought would be a nice shawl. My teacher, Nancy Soper, picked out the yarns for me. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom at the time but liked what she chose. Instead of taking each color from the Color Wheel like the samplers we usually see, she chose colors that were related. And they ranged in steps from yellow to purple using colors in ½ of the color wheel. She used an interesting array of yarn types to get the right color shades in the warp. The edges were quite uneven given fat and thinner yarns but for a shawl that wasn’t a problem then. Usually all of the colors in the warp are then used as wefts to see how they act when crossed with one another.

Choose colors you like or are likely to use. For example, you might like olive green and use that instead of a harsh pure green or yellow-green. Most color blankets I’ve seen are made with pure colors from the color wheel. Colors that I will never use in real life. A color blanket can be for reference or for a project, such as a scarf, table runner, or actual blanket. Watch out for yellow if you want to make something for its looks. Yellow is so light and that makes it show up much more than other colors. Use less of it than the others and you will be happier with the overall look of the finished project.
Here is a color blanket made for reference. A business in India needed to know how the threads they were going to use blended or not. It was made primarily for reference only. However, some thought went into the organization where the warm and cool colors showed up. Thus, a scarf was made as well. I suggest using colors in your stash that you are likely to use—NOT every color there is, but ones you relate to and like.

In my case, this color blanket was basically made for reference it turns out. Because of this, the color chosen was more important than the type of yarn. Woolen, chenille, worsted, mohair, and novelty yarns were used. These differences resulted in the edges bowing in and out and the cloth being somewhat puckered.

I wove half the blanket/shawl in plain weave. I discovered the colors blended quite well with this structure. The closer the colors are on the color wheel, the more they blend. The edge colors (yellow and purple) are farther apart on the color wheel and don’t blend as well. That’s why I made those warp stripes narrower, especially I used less yellow than the other colors both in the warp and weft.

The twill half was a disaster in my opinion, especially where the light yarns crossed contrasting dark yarns. (I had just learned to draft some twills as you can see.) Compare this with the same yarns crossing in plain weave above. This was an important lesson I learned. Structures with floats don’t blend as well as plain weave where every other thread is woven in.

The shawl was a disappointment as a shawl, but I hated to just throw it out or bury it in a drawer. A good friend suggested I use it on my bed. I look at different sections and don’t worry about the uneven edges or chenille yarns that are worming.

Weaver’s Block? Try a Sampler: Sample or Sampler?

The answer to the question in the title is answered at the end of the post. I was thinking of a quick and easy project for a post the other day. Besides quick and easy, I thought it also should not be precious. Because when something is precious it takes extra time, planning and fussing and worrying whether it will turn out ok. Or a big investment in time and materials. What came to mind was a beginner’s sampler. If you made one years ago or never before, it can be freeing.  A little bit like a musician doing scales. Practice, information, but not precious. Also, when I think of the sampler I made when I got started there are a lot of structures in it that I never wove again. While weaving it you don’t even need to think much, just do as you are told. With your mind free, I’ll bet ideas come without any effort. I used to tell my students to only show their sampler to people who will understand. It’s really like something a mother would put up on the refrigerator in the minds of most people. However, a sampler can be something such as a scarf or table runner, etc. It could even be black and white or something for a man in your life. Even if you have lots of shafts, a simple 4-shaft sampler can give you basic information for later on.

My students made this sampler. It is the first project in my book for beginners. This one was made by my mentor and friend, Helen Pope. She was well over 85 and a very experienced weaver when she made it.  I suggest using 2 contrasting colors in the warp. They could be high or low contrast.  Even though you aren’t making something precious, please use yarns that you like. Using up ugly yarns is a bad idea; you won’t have pleasure while weaving or when it’s finished. You can use anything you want for your sampler, of course. (And you could even put borders on the edges.) (Pardon the blurry photos—the sampler is at the studio where I cannot get at it. The photos are from the back cover of my beginner book.)

Maybe you didn’t “get” the concept of warp dominance or weft dominance the first go around. There’s a lot to explore with this idea.

You can do a lot with plain weave itself. Contrast, mix, or blend colors. Even the same yarn for both warp and weft can be interesting. And alternating colors 1 row (or two, or three) makes a variety of cloths.

Don’t forget basket weave! It is the perfect weave to go along with twills. With both being “over 2, under 2” the width of the cloth will remain the same. If you used plain weave sections and twill sections, the cloth will be wider in the plain weave areas. That could be disfiguring unless you wanted wider and narrower edges.

Sample or Sampler? It’s important to sample on the same warp as your project. A narrow sample for a wide project won’t give the information you need. You can easily cut off the sample to look at it, feel it, and wash it. Then you know you have the right sett, reed, and peace of mind. If you make a two-stick heading you will use only a short amount of your warp to get the warp back on tension. Click this link for more about the two-stick heading:

A Little Slide Show of My Samples

I spent the day processing photos of the samples one more time. While being confined, I find it nice to do things I could never find time for, none the less almost repeating something I’d already done in another way. I want to keep practicing my photography skills I learned for the India trip, mainly working more with the program, LightRoom. It’s like Photo Shop. Years ago, my tech guy said I should learn to use it. I retorted, “Do you want to learn to weave?” I’m eating my words and he’s still helping with the posts and everything technical and otherwise. He can use ‘warp’ in a sentence and knows quite a lot just from osmosis. That’s enough for me.

To view slideshow click the first image below then use the right arrow key on your keyboard to advance to the next photo (or swipe on phone or tablet).

Peg Plan Mistake Yields Another Surprise

I started weaving on this 8-yard warp on March 5 my records show. For the last year I’ve been making silk warps with yarns and threads I inherited from a wonderful weaver, Ethel Aotoni from Hawaii who moved into my building a few years ago. They are mostly white because I think she was planning to dye them. That is just fine because I have wanted to do the same. Before the lock down, I wove as many samples as I could to bring home for dyeing. Besides the silks as wefts, I have used the odd yarns that I pulled out now and then that interested me.  Out of the 8 yards, I have only 40” left. I’ve liked so many of the weaves I got, that it will be hard to choose just one to repeat. This is an old problem, hence many samples. It’s really what I like to do best—make something out of nothing and make as many different things as I can on one warp. As I look at the samples, I am getting ideas for more things to try!

I was trying for this pattern but it turned out to show up on the wrong side of the cloth. I didn’t see it until I checked the wrong side because I wasn’t seeing what I was expecting on the top when I was weaving. How did that happen, I wondered. I checked the introduction at the beginning of the book  (8-Shaft Patterns by Carol Strickler) to see if I was reading the tie-up drafts wrong. No, I was reading them as I expected as “bubbles rise” meaning the circles indicated lifted shafts. Then I realized I’d transferred the tie up incorrectly to the peg plan. Oh my! Turns out each VERTICAL column in a normal tie up is written as a HORIZONTAL line in a peg plan. Very sobering. I hadn’t used the dobby in awhile and didn’t look again at the instructions because I thought I knew what to do. What a good lesson.

Here is what I saw while I was weaving. Turns out I love the black part woven with a thin black wool boucle yarn. I’ve had the cone for a long time, loving it but not finding a way to use it. I love the mysterious texture. I definitely plan to weave more of this—a lot more! Again, my good fortune with a big mistake!

A Weave That Was a Surprise! (Mistake?) (Using a treadling draft for a completely different threading draft.)

I made this post just after we were told to stay at home—over a month ago. I can hardly believe that much time has passed. Actually I have treasured the time locked in at home. I live in a life care place and feel very safe and protected. Meals and mail are delivered to our doors. I go out of my apartment to do my laundry down the hall, mail out books, exercise while reading and walking in my hall, and going for daily walks with my camera outside around our building in our gardens. Inside my apartment, I have been working creatively putting together fabrics to make my scrolls and processing the photographs from my garden strolls. My teaching brain has been activated so I make posts on my blog almost every other night. Culturally, I have been playing many operas streamed daily by the Metropolitan Opera on my laptop. Socially, besides keeping in touch with other residents, Zoom has kept me in good contact with friends outside and with my tech guy.

I love this 8-shaft braided twill (or plaited twill) pattern. I’m embarrassed to admit that I wove a treadling from a pattern when I didn’t realize that I hadn’t threaded the loom for that treadling! I was mystified why my cloth had an obscure texture on the back and not the definite braided twill I thought I was weaving on top.

The pattern for the braided twill I love is #380 in Carol Strickler’s book. I have woven it several times but completely forgot it needed a very special threading. As well as treadling.

Here is the 24-pick treadling draft. Using my dobby loom is a life saver for such a complicated treadling.

Here’s what I got when weaving this 24-shed pattern on an 8-shaft straight threading.
I like the white textured side a lot and am thinking strongly of weaving more of it. I especially like how it takes advantage of the shiny plied silk warp threads—especially after wet finishing with hard pressing (ironing).

DO NOT TRY THIS! Besides the above huge mistake, I pegged the draft wrong as well! I’m glad I made only a sample and looked at it carefully. And finally realized both of my great big mistakes. (And glad I like the result enough to weave more.)

Cutting off Some of the Cloth Before the Warp is Finished:  The Two-Stick Heading

While I still could be at my studio, I wove as much as I could so I could dye it while sequestered  at home.   Since I wasn’t able to finish weaving the entire warp and I wanted to cut off what was woven, I used the technique in this post. I’ve written about this “2-stick heading” so much that I wonder if people are getting tired of seeing it. It is such a useful technique I want everyone who weaves to know about it. I learned it from my mentor, Jim Ahrens, who used industry techniques for his production weaving business. What I learned from him is the basis of all my books and the reason I wrote them. His techniques from industry needed to be passed on to future generations of  handweavers.

I almost always use this because I often want to cut off samples before weaving my “projects”. With this method you don’t lose as much of the warp as when you make knots to tie on again to the apron rod. And you retain perfect tension when you start weaving again. Before cutting off some cloth, weave this heading first.
1. What you do is first weave an inch or so of plain weave (or close to plain weave as possible).
2. Weave in two sticks (thinner the better or use rods or dowels).
3. Weave another inch. In the photo I wove a little more than one inch because plain weave wasn’t possible with this weave structure and my warp was slippery.

This close-up shows clearly how the two sticks are woven in.

This shows where you cut off your cloth, LEAVING THE HEADING ON THE LOOM.

The complete heading remains on the loom. Your cloth has been cut off.

Fold the sticks together and tie them to the apron rod. Now you can start weaving again with the perfect tension you had all along!

Here is a close-up of the knots tying the apron rod to the two sticks which have been folded together.

Marking Where to Cut So You Can Change Your Mind Later

I made this post while I was at my loom last week. I was weaving as much as I could in case I got locked up in my retirement place. Since that has happened I’ve been working on other unfinished weavings. And getting ideas for more posts. More on that progress to come. In the meantime I hope this tip is helpful. I love sending out these posts–it makes me feel connected to the outside world. [click photos to enlarge]
PUT THE MARKER THREAD IN THE SAME SHED AS YOU WEAVE ALONG. This allows you to pull out the thread without destroying the weft sequence if you change your mind about cutting your cloth later. DO NOT USE RED, BLACK, NAVY if you think the color might run.

See that the marker thread is in the same shed as the regular weft. Then you can pull it out later if you change your mind.

A contrasting marker thread is very helpful especially if the pattern isn’t easy to follow a weft for cutting. With some textures, even the change of color of the weft isn’t enough for an accurate cutting line. Remember not to use a color thread that might run if it gets wet in the finishing process.

Neddle Cushion Details

Here are the needle cushions as they were woven, before cutting them apart. After sampling, I was happy with the way they looked. See below for some of the problems that needed solving.

I hated the spaces between the pattern threads as seen here. Read how I solved that below. I chose different colors of the pattern threads and doubled the number of threads to make them thicker. Then I was satisfied.

I went to my bible on Overshot techniques, Helene Bress’s book. On page 206 in the Overshot chapter was my answer! Her book has such depth with many ways to think about how one can design things. There must be thousands of images.

© 1981 Helene Bress



My New Baby is a Cutie!

Now my studio really looks like a weaving studio. My newest loom is in the center. All my looms except this new sweetie were built by Jim Ahrens. Now the new one was made by AVL looms—the “A” stands for Ahrens, so all the engineering is related. The ‘V’ stands for Jon Violette, who began the company with Jim and the ‘L’ stands for looms.
Are you wondering what the other looms are that circle the new one in the center? Starting with the loom on the left and going around clockwise: 10-shaft, side tie-up, 4-shaft loom, 40-shaft dobby built by Jim Ahrens in the 1940’s, and my love, the 4-shaft loom made of bird’s eye maple wood which I have used exclusively for years and years. Going to 12 is a giant and exciting step for me!

Here she is—a real sweetie. I’ve been trying to reduce and give away things but this loom from Jan Langdon I fell in love with years ago. When she decided to down size, she said I was the only person who had longed for it. It is a 12-shaft dobby about 36” wide. Note that in the photo, my 10-shaft loom with a side tie-up is back behind the new loom. Small in a way but the dobby will increase my capacity for new structures greatly.  I’ve been wanting to weave a structure for years and finally decided to do it until I realized I would run out of treadles. The dobby solves that problem. Two treadles work the mechanism to raise the shafts. Notice it is on wheels—that has been very handy already. I just need a pillow on my bench.

Here’s the back of the loom. The dobby mechanism is on the left side in the photo.

This is the dobby mechanism. Each bar represents one shed or row of weaving.

A close-up shows the pegs in the bars. A special tool makes it easy to ‘peg’ each shed. The holes without pegs are the shafts that will go up. Since there are 12 shafts, there are 12 holes in each bar. When the right treadle is pressed, the mechanism raises the shafts for one bar—one shed. When the left treadle is pressed, the shed closes and the mechanism readies itself for the next shed. When all the holes are filled nothing will go up. It’s a way to mark the end of a repeat.

Here is the first thing I’ve woven! I wanted to shade the 12-shaft satin weave to go from only the warp showing graded to only the weft showing. The white warps are shiny spun silk (2 different yarns) and the weft is handspun silk from Bhutan that is not shiny.Then I dyed the piece lightly in black walnut dye. I was hoping the shades of the color would contrast more, to go in shades from light to dark–but that is what I’ll work on next. I thought the two yarns—one shiny and one mat would contrast more when in the dye. Lately I’ve been weaving cloth for the dye pot—really fun to weave and get my creative juices flowing.

I’m Bending the Rules

Here is my current warp on my loom! Just what I taught my students to avoid–unevenly handspun singles yarns that are lumpy and sticky for warp threads. This is silk yarn I brought back from Bhutan–mainly to show the tour group what handspun yarn looked like. I did use plied threads for the 4 selvedge threads on the edges and weighted them separately. I used 5/2 cotton but a plied silk might have been a better idea.

From Linda Heinrich’s linen workshop at Convergence in 1994 and from her book on weaving linen I learned how easy it is to size a warp on the loom. Before now I’ve always been afraid to size anything. Her recipe is 1 tsp flax seed (any kind will do) to 1 cup of water. Simmer 15 minutes and strain. Refigerate and use within 2 weeks or freeze.I brush on the sizing then strum the threads and then open the shed to dry. Don’t apply too much–sort of like dry painting but pat the threads to get the sizing to go through to the bottom of the threads.

This is the yarn on the skein. I’ve shown it before to show the cross  made in the skein. The threads are horribly sticky but with the cross the threads are coming off perfectly. There are plenty of soft-spun lumps and thin areas where it is twisted tighter. I knew from winding the yarn off the skein that the threads were strong–that’s what convinced me to try them for a warp. The stickyness would have prevented the sheds from opening without sizing I realized.

Here is the cloth off the loom and wet finished. I got the cloth really wet in the sink then blotted with a towel. And ironed until dry I love ironing and ironing until dry and I love the sheen I got with the totally mat yarns.

Here is the cloth I just dyed with black walnuts I collected last week. What frun all this is. I can’t wait for the warp to dry and begin weaving again.

Peggy’s Weaving Snippets in CD Cases

CD Case 1

CD Case 3My holiday gift shopping is done! My first weaving teacher told us to keep every scrap weever wove. I sort of have–at least saved the sheer scraps I’ve woven. I put them in CD cases and voila!  I like to have the pieces seen from the front and the back so you can see through them, but you could put a paper behind them as a mat. I found an inexpensive easel. They can stand alone or be hung on a nail on the wall.

CD Case 2


Woven Bookmarks

Helen Pope’s Bookmarks [click to enlarge]

As the days get dark earlier, different things show up in my apartment when the lights are on. I noticed this piece shimmering with the light from my floor lamp. It looked beautiful and more dramatic than ever before.

These are bookmarks woven by my mentor, Helen Pope, when she was around 93 or 94. They are all on one warp. She loved threading an overshot pattern and experimenting with as many different patterns as she could think of. The warp is 20/2 cotton and the pattern wefts are a couple of strands of embroidery floss. She was a beloved member in my weaving class and she brought this arrangement along with evergreen boughs for the table for our Christmas party one year. I was bold enough later to ask her if I could have it. She said, “Peggy, you ask for too much.” But she did give it to me and I treasure it.

Click HERE for more on Helen Pope.

New in My Weaving Life

Three new things:I began weaving again on the sewing thread warp. After being away from the loom awhile, it really feels good to be throwing the shuttle–even to weave samples. The blog is being redesigned and I’m thrilled with the new images. Better yet, the button to order my books is working. So, with a click you can now add to cart! Go to the Book and DVD section on the home page.


Weaving Has Begun! (but no photos)

I made this post yesterday–but suddenly the blog software isn’t allowing me to post any images. You” have to imagine. I hope when I get back at the end of the week it will be fixed.
Here is the back of my loom–weights are holding the purple supplementary warp and also the selvedges. I’m sampling to see what the colors in the warp will be like and to see if I can get sheer again. The extra warp isn’t threaded in the heddles, but between every 8th warp thread. They are in the same position as floating selvedges–in the middle of the sheds. When I want the  supplementary threads on the top, I shoot the shuttle under them. When I don’t want them to show, I put the shuttle over them. I learned this technique as “split broche.”

Try Tying Up Your Treadles This Way

Tie up for 4-shaft Looms

This way to tie up your treadles is a fantastic gift that Jim Ahrens taught us. You’ll never have to tie up the treadles again on your 4-shaft looms. My looms were built by Jim;  this tie-up is the only choice–because it’s so flexible. I love it and pass it along to you as my gift.

One tie up for four shaft looms
In Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps, (my book #2) beginning on page 69,
I described a tie-up that never needs to be
changed, for four shaft jack and counterbalance looms. You can get all the combinations possible with four shafts with this system. Your feet can dance over the treadles for many weaves, and if they aren’t dancing, they can work very efficiently. See Figure 6. Another advantage of this system is that you can change to any weave structure you want in a project without changing the ties to the treadles.

Why Make a Sampler?

This comes from my new book, Weaving for Beginners. It is what I started all my beginning weaving students on and gives a very good foundation for future weaving. After the sampler was completed, the students planned their own original projects based on what they learned.

Beginners Sampler (click to enlarge)

Why make a sampler?
This is the way many weavers try out new things. A sampler is a cloth with several ideas woven into it. Some ideas to try out are using different colors, threads, weaves, or your own designs. (See Figure 221.) You can try out more than one idea at a time by dividing the warp into sections.
For example, if you were sampling different colors, you might
make your warp have portions two to three inches wide, each with a different color you are considering. Notice that the sampler described in this chapter has two sections in the warp—each one a different color.
When weaving a sampler, you would try out those warp colors using the same ones as wefts, or perhaps, using other colors.
It is a good idea to try out different weaves as well. Say, you have four colors in the warp, and you try each color in the weft in plain weave–that would give you 16 different squares woven, or samples—useful information for designing a project. Weaving the colors again in twill weave would give you 16 more samples. Weaving the colors in herringbone, another 16 samples, and in a broken twill, 16 more.
You are weaving a plaid, so to speak, with the colors and threadings in the
warp repeated in the weft. You also can see how colors look when crossed
with other colors and how expected structures look when they are woven
with other threadings.
Sampling is fun because you aren’t under pressure to make a masterpiece.
This is the place to try out lots of ideas. Then you can put the best ideas into
a project, knowing that it is likely to please you.

Make a Two-Stick Heading

Two-stick Heading, part One

Use this when you want to make a sample on a warp before weaving the entire project.

The two-stick heading (from Weaving for Beginners, beginning on page 134.)
This is a very useful heading. I have used it countless times. One reason is to eliminate the knots on the apron rod so that the cloth rolls up without lumps on the cloth beam. Another reason is so that you can cut off some of the cloth before the whole warp has been completely woven.
You need a pair of sticks that fit on your cloth beam and won’t interfere with
the ratchet.

Two-stick Heading, part Two

They can be lease sticks, dowels, or metal rods. I prefer thin and lightweight
sticks rather than thick ones because they take up less warp and aren’t so bulky.

Read the step-by-step directions beginning on page 134 in Weaving for Beginners.

A Sampler vs Samples

One reader suggested I talk a bit about sampling. How much to make, wasting “good” yarn, when and why, etc. etc.You can save yourself a lot of heart ache if you make a sample before weaving something and find out that it shrinks too much, or “doesn’t turn out.” You might make a sampler or weave samples. Read below how the two are different.

Beginning Sampler (click to enlarge)

A sampler is generally a warp designed to sample a variety of weaves and ideas. I’m making one in the studio right now. I feel like it’s a big gamble because I don’t know how it will turn out. But because it’s “only a sample”, there is no pressure to make it wonderful (although I hope it will be) and I can be free to try anything. I am not sure about the sett for what I’m visualizing so I need to weave with the sett I decided on and see if it works for me. I am worried that my sett is too open–but I know I can try different techniques (eg.fatter wefts, or beat lighter) if I don’t like the initial look. I can re-sley the reed if necessary. My warp is only 4″ wide so I’m not wasting much yarn–and 3 yards long. I planned the length to try to get a good piece or two after my sampling.
The sampler I have all my beginning weavers make  is shown in the illustration and is found beginning on page 93 in Weaving for Beginners.

Sampling: I had a student this week who wanted to make a baby blanket. Since it is a fairly wide project I suggested that she make the warp a little longer and weave a sample at the beginning and cut it off and wash it and be sure it suits her. If it shrinks too much or doesn’t look right. She can then make changes before weaving the entire project without wasting all the yarn and time. Use the two-stick heading from my new book, Weaving for Beginners, to reconnect the warp without wasting yarn to tie the threads back onto the front apron rod. You cannot make a narrow sample and expect the information to directly translate to a wide warp. Since there will be more friction in the reed, the wefts in a wide warp won’t pack down in the same way as for a narrow warp. I suggest allowing 6-8 inches, minimum for the sample. I really like to add an extra yard for sampling. That allows plenty to sample at the beginning and usually there is warp left for me to try out more ideas at the end. (This is when I am the most creative.)