Introduction I see I made a post about unwinding skeins of fine threads exactly one year ago today, the day I am making this post. See it HERE.
There were a lot of comments responding to Tal Saarony’s previous two posts. It was mentioned that swifts work better mounted like a Ferris wheel rather than a merry go round. I remember hearing that from my mentor Helen Pope when I encountered my first umbrella swift. However, I probably didn’t remember it all the time.
In Japan fine silk threads were wound on this kind of spool. I bought some when I realized that the circumference is larger than a spool’s and that has made it easier to wind off skeins of fine threads.
It took a special winder for the spools.
Here is the skein holder that goes with the Japanese winder. Note it is positioned like a Ferris wheel, too. Another commenter said that the yarn coming off the skein should come off the bottom. I was told when you can’t find an end to pat the skein from the inside so the end could fall out and show itself.
I bought a cone winder with a skein holder attached from ETSY that came from Hong Kong. I haven’t tried it yet—too many other things to do before I go back to fine threads again.
I bought this skein holder in Bhutan. Simple with straight sides unlike an umbrella swift. I think they all used the same size skeins in a workshop, but it wouldn’t be hard to exchange the bamboo sticks to change the size of the holder.
I bought this treasure years ago and finally sold it to an antique dealer.
This came along with the one above and went to the same dealer so someone else can enjoy it.
The skein winders we had at school and grad school were all of the swift, or umbrella, type. This one is a random picture from Amazon:
I struggled with the umbrella swift as I struggled with all things weaving. There are so many processes, so many tools. I am not technically gifted. When, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I asked my teacher to help with my first mess of a warp, he said he had never seen a warp with so many crossed threads. He had been teaching for many years, so it was quite an accomplishment on my part.
Over the years I only ever used the umbrella swift. I didn’t know there were other types (this is pre-internert). As the years passed, my swift and I developed a mutual aversion made more bitter by co-dependence.
I will explain the reasons I dislike umbrella swifts; just a caveat — I’ve only ever used wooden ones.
1. They can collapse. No matter how much I tighten them, I can never be sure they won’t collapse while I wind or unwind. This by no means happens every time, nor does it happen frequently, but the few times it has happened (during many years) make me distrustful and fearful of them.
2. The wooden ones are never smooth enough for my fine silk yarn. The yarn snags on the wood.
3. They are narrowest at their center and expand in width outwards, so the length of yarn per rotation is not equal and a skein will have within it different lengths of yarn.
4. They don’t rotate smoothly.
The skein winder I use now is this:
I bought it on Etsy. I like it much better than the umbrella, although it too is not perfect. It rotates smoothly and the yarn is generally the same length. But:
1. there are many nuts and screws. The nuts do loosen if not checked regularly. I have had an arm fly off once during an intense session at high speed with an electric bobbin winder (sorry, that sounds vaguely obscene).
2. While the yarn rotation length is in theory the same — the space on the metal yarn holders being flat — I tend to apply too much pressure while winding, and the front of the metal holders gets pushed down a little, making the yarn toward the outer edge shorter than the yarn toward the inside.
3. It is adjustable for different skein sizes, but some skeins will be loose because you can play around with the pre-drilled holes, but obviously the available combinations will not be perfect for every size. I haven’t had a major problem, but it is something to consider.
4. It has a dinky handle to help rotate when winding, but the handle is quite small, more of a peg, really, and it fits loosely into one of the holes, but is not very stable. Sorry, it’s not in the pictures.
Tal lives in Belmont MA, a town adjacent to Cambridge. She graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Hello genteel and/or uncouth followers of Peggy, My name is Tal Saarony and I have been weaving for many years. I belong to the tribe of masochistic weavers who enjoy, while cursing like a sailor, battling with very fine yarn and, on occasion, inlaying patterns with several complicated treadling sequences, e.g., different overshots, into each row of weft. Not for me the simple life. These days I’m more of a plain weave kind of person, a balanced-weave tapestrier (in contrast with the weft-faced kind), but it still takes me hours to weave a full inch of cloth.
I recently asked Peggy a question she thought the rest of you might like to know the answer to, and she generously invited me to share a post with you.
I will add some pictures of my weavings at the end of the post for your perusal.
I recently bought some very fine silk yarn in skein form.
I needed a way to store it so that I would be able to cut pieces off to use for inlay in my weavings. Normally I use bobbins for yarn storage, but I would have had to buy a large number, probably about a hundred, and I was hoping to avoid the expense. I don’t use regular-sized bobbins and shuttles — my shuttles and corresponding bobbins are very small. While, to my thinking, you can never have too many bobbins of any size, it seemed silly to buy a hundred bobbins just for yarn storage.
Here are bobbins and a cardboard spool I have. I normally use the middle bobbin.
I came up with the idea of a bobbin that would have very wide flanges that would allow me to store the yarn on. I thought I invented this ingenious idea and in my mind’s eye was seeing the pots of money it would be bringing in, but apparently such spools have already been invented. Probably two thousand years ago. But I didn’t know this, and enthusiastically made a wonky paper prototype.
Before embarking on mass production, I sent an email to Peggy — whose knowledge and deep understanding of all things weaving is unparalleled — and to another master weaver friend, Bhakti Ziek. Both warned me kindly but firmly of the dangers of collapsing flanges and the ensuing loss of yarn and sanity. Peggy explained it thus: “Big problems if the flanges aren’t VERY strong. They will pop off and make a mess as the spool fills. As a spool fills, more and more pressure is applied to the core of the spool, squeezing it dramatically. That is what can cause the ends to pop off. A lot of pressure is being applied to the flanges, too as more and more thread is wound on.”
Both Peggy and Bhakti alerted me to the existence of cardboard and plastic spools such that I desired. The dreams of pots of money evaporated in an instance. I would have liked the plastic spools, but, alas, finances dictated cardboard. The spools are available at Halcyon Yarn, and also at other yarn and weaving tool stores. I have been sternly warned that the flanges of the cardboard spools have been known to pop off when the spools fill up, with catastrophic results.
I have not had this problem. Although my spools don’t look very full, the yarn is extremely fine and, in my estimation, there are tens of thousands of yards on each of the spools. Some of the skeins took as long as half a day each to wind on an electric winder (admittedly with frequent breakage).
The current spools are reinforced with metal. Check for that when you buy.
And so I invested in 30 spools.
Here is a skein of silk yarn on a skein winder being wound onto a cardboard spool mounted on an electric bobbin winder with which I have a love-hate relationship. Please excuse the tissue that sneaked into the picture. I assure you it is snot-free.
Spools wound with my silk yarn.
The inside diameter of the spools is larger than my Leclerc bobbin winders. I have one electric and 2 manuals (and don’t get me started on how much I dislike them all. Are you listening Nilus Leclerc? Contact me for design tips on how to make your bobbin winders user-friendly, weaver-friendly, human-friendly). The electric one is at least 30 years old and the others older; I skeptically wonder if newer ones are made differently (why improve something inadequate if it has been selling for years). For the electric one, Bamboo skewers — not much thicker than a toothpick, but longer — and insert it along with the spool onto the winder. The skewer will be destroyed with each removal of a spool from the winder, so you will need a packet of them. It takes a bit of trial and error to get just the right length of skewer sticking out toward the body of the winder. Push the spool inward as far as you can but leave about a 1 mm space between the spool and the wooden base.
The skewer method works with manual winders too, but it makes an unholy racket; they’re, annoyingly, noisy enough already. I found that wrapping some masking tape (you will later have to scrub off the sticky residue, so there’s that to consider) around the shaft works better.
The photo shows the end of a skewer peeping out. Note that the spool is pushed almost all the way to the wooden base and pushed a little bit onto the thicker part of the shaft. In the background is the manual winder with masking tape that was shredded when I struggled to pull the spool off.
Peggy expressed concern that you, the reading weaver, might be dazzled by my paper spool and rush to make your very own. Do not! Should you attempt to use such homemade crappy specimen, you are sure to end up ensnarled in a tangle of yarn; tearing at your hair; clawing at your eyes; and muttering incoherently, until your loved ones are forced to ship you off to a suitable facility.
Happy winding, and do heed the warning re homemade spools…
Mosaic Photos These are my most recent weavings. The pink ones are off the loom, but not cleaned up yet. The blue are still on the loom, the last two pictures are the same piece, still in progress. Click the first photo to see it larger and the details then use your arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate.
This gorgeous irridescent sari caught my eye immediately. I brought it home with me and hope to make collages where the light plays on the fabric in different ways. So inspiring! It would be lovely as a garment with gathers but I can’t think of anything I would wear. [click photos to enlarge]
THIS IS A SKEIN HOLDER! I asked about the bamboo pieces with “feet” that were laying on the floor under a loom. Immediately a skein was produced to show the purpose. The threads came off beautifully. I would like to think it could be put up on a table.
If you look closely in the corner of the photo the weaver is winding the thread from the skein on a wicker cage-like tool with a stick for a handle. He is winding very fast and the fine silk thread is coming off like magic. I wish I could make skeins that well.
This close-up shows a stack of the cards for the Jacquard loom and the “cage thing” that threads are wound on. They could twirl the cage fast and wind up the thread really fast.
I watched this weaver for a good while while he was separating warp threads so he could move the lease sticks. I thought I was the only one who needed to fiddle to move the sticks sometimes. It’s VERY important to keep the sticks in. The reason is that if a thread breaks you will know exactly where it belongs.
The woman in the sari is weaving along with a fly shuttle that works when she pulls the handle on the cord. (It shoots the shuttle across the warp.) I visited a factory once in another part of India where all the Jacquard weavers were men because lifting all the threads with their weights took a lot of muscle. I was very surprised to see one woman. The others were men but not beefy types.
In the town of Thanjavur in southest India we visited Sri Sagunthalai Silks factory. One of their specialities is weaving special borders on the fabric. They developed a technique so the join between the body and the borders was barely detectable by feel. [click photos to enlarge]
There were 5 or 6 Jacquard looms. Here is how the (two) Jacquard mechanisms were set up: one mechanism for the borders (with yellow cords) and the other for the body of the cloth with white cords. Each and every pattern warp thread was weighted separately so each thread could be lifted to make the complicated brocade pattern seen above. Each heddle was attached to its own cord going up to the mechanisms (yellow and white cords). One punch card was made for each row of weaving which the mechanisms operated to make the sheds. This inspired the develpment of computers; you can see why.
This shows the two warps for the body and a border. I think the shafts lifted the ground threads and the Jacquard lifted the separate pattern threads.
Here the woman weaving (wearing a sari) lifted the border threads with its own treadle. I think the Jacuard worked automatically when a shed was made. (You can see some of the weights below the border).
Another treadle worked the shed for the body of the fabic.
Here she was VERY grumpy when the Jacquard mechanism overhead malfunctioned!
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.
The fine silk warp at 125 ends per inch stymied me and I walked away and left it on the loom for a year and a half. I thenbegan dyeing. I knew there were enough threads left unbroken to weave so I began weaving with some heavier handspun silk from Bhutan. When I took off the entire warp, This piece is what I found had already been woven–and I loved it. Originally I was weaving a tube but had decided to weave two separate layers–hence this piece was formed! [click photos to enlarge to see detail]
Here is the cloth woven with the silk from Bhutan. I decided just to weave off the warp with it so I could cut it up to dye later with the natural dyes I’ve been playing with.
You may remember the skein from Bhutan from another post. The skein was unusual because there was a cross in it. Even this extremely sticky thread came off the skein perfectly.
Here is my latest peice–5 yards to try the new silk/retted bamboo thread I saw in Handwoven Magazine. I love it. I the twill warp face on one side and weft faced on the other so when I dye it I’ll have two choices of tones of color.
Here is silk thread I bought–and a lovely child’s under kimono. The really rough skeins in the bundle are raw silk made of the waste silk that is on the outside of the cocoons. I got it at a co-op where the framers took their cocoons to be unwound and made into skeins. The silk was reeled off of the cocoons by machines. It was fascinating to watch and the beautiful, shiny silk skeins being wound. I don’t know how the wide silk yarn was made, but I hope to find a way to weave something interesting with it.
I love the little kimono–we visited a woman who researched how the red dyes used to be made. Red for under the kimono was really a popular thing!
Since I’ve been working with silk threads, people have asked about silk worms and silk cocoons. Here are some cocoons I brought from my studio. You can see one where the silkworm escaped leaving the cocoon so it can’t be unwound because it isn’t intact. The others are whole. The colored cocoons were dyed at a place I visited in Japan. We reeled the silk off of blue and yellow cocoons and the company knitted up the thread
into the green scarf in the photo. In another post I’ll send pictures of mereeling green silk from blue and yellow cocoons. The gold silk I previously unwound from a skein onto a Japanese spool is the natural color of the cocoon. A friend sent it to me from Cambodia. One fine strand of silk is made from unreeling many cocoons together at once. These fine threads are what I used in the pieces in the gallery.
I’ve been showing people the spool of silk thread that I made from that skein which took a month to unwind. (See a previous post.) They love the full spool as it is–as a work of art. I’m beginning to love it, too. I’ve been worrying about what I can weave that will be as beautiful as the silk. Now my thinking is to weave something, but leave a lot on a spool because it’s beautiful that way. The silk came from Cambodia–the gold color is the color of the cocoons–the threads are c9omposed of 20 or more filaments (cocoons). The thread is slightly slubby and many were stuck together with the sericin from the silk worm. This is what makes it so lovely, I think.
I finished the skein last week–that is, I stopped just short of finishing it. You can see that it’s almost completely unwound. I stopped unwinding so I could just cut the skein. Then I have a hunk of this thread to use to lay in the sheds –similar to the silk pieces in my gallery.
You can see the wound spool and I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. The “spool” is the style used in Japan for silk–a much larger circumference than “our” spools.