Introduction: A teacher loves to teach. In fact, when I want to procrastinate, I compose a new post. That means questions and comments are welcomed. That also means no question is a bad one! In my blog I hope to teach and give good techniques that will make your weaving a pleasure, not a hassle. If I don’t have a good answer to a question, I’ll ask experts for their advice. That’s where I am now on the issue of fine threads. Several expert weavers have shared their advice and I’m working on how to present it all. I’ve often said, “The teacher learns the most.” And, “It’s the bright people who have the most questions because they can read what I’ve said in different ways.”
One student in a workshop said, “I pray when I’m warping.” I said, “I don’t want you to have to pray. I want to teach you good techniques, then you can be as artistic and creative as you want.”
I learned to weave at Pacific Basin School of Textiles in Berkeley, California in the 70’s. The curriculum was structured and full of the principles of weaving and designing woven textiles. Each term’s class relied on what we’d learned before. I had a year’s sabbatical from teaching in a junior high school in San Francisco. So, I took the full year’s courses (plus some night classes after I went back to the classroom). I spent another year as an apprentice with Jim Ahrens, the “A” in AVL in a production weaving studio at the school. When we moved to Washington, DC someone in the guild there asked me a question. That was the minute my weaving life and teaching life collided.
“THE ONLY THREAD THAT CAN’T TANGLE IS ONE UNDER TENSION.”
Jim Ahrens, the “A” part of AVL.
Tangled threads are a major obstacle to confident weaving. They’re troublesome in themselves and they can cause threads to become uneven, snag, and break. The underlying purpose of many of the methods I teach is to keep threads under tension. And most of the techniques have been used for centuries around the world for efficient, production weaving.
Generally, the chain keeps most warp threads organized enough so that they don’t tangle. However, some yarns (for example, linen) can be quite “jumpy” or springy and tangle easily as can a large number of fine, silky threads. I recommend winding the warp on a kitestick instead of making it into a chain so that the threads are always on tension and thus, can’t tangle. In the case of a large warp made in sections, you would have each section on its own kitestick rather than in several chains.
Introduction: Tal Saarony’s posts have led me down a wonderful “rabbit hole” for information about fine threads. I’m still gathering information from very experienced weavers, so I’ll start with how I’ve dealt with fine silk threads. You can see some of my sheer pieces by checking out my Gallery and the photos for on the headings for the various tabs on my blog. Check out my post from April 9, 2021 “Unwinding Skeins of Very Fine Threads” HERE
When I was planning my “ruffle warp” all I knew was that I wanted the cloth to be sheer. That meant neither the warps nor the wefts could be close together. Here’s what I remember how I determined the sett (epi). When Master Weaver, Lillian Whipple asked a reed maker for a fine reed he said, “I can make one as fine as 75 dents per inch, but you won’t like it. It will be too fragile.” He suggested putting a threading unit in a dent instead. Going on that advice, my first silk threads were threaded at 96 epi with 8 threads per dent in a 12 dent reed. Since I wanted sheer and an open weave, the reed marks weren’t a problem for me. Another thread was finer yet so I sett it at 120 epi with 8 threads per dent in a 15 dent reed. Both Lillian and I used a warping drum when beaming. I think I’ll try a trapeze the next time because it won’t take so much space in my studio. Lillian’s drum is no longer made by AVL and I had mine built. Directions for it are in my book, Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps (newly available in print).
To make it easier to beat, I decided to weave double cloth thinking the two layer’s worth of threads would give more friction in the reed. That meant ½ the epi was in each layer. I don’t know if it helped, but it turned out that the tube made the ruffles. That was a lucky surprise.
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.
My last post was about my sampler that came before my overshot wall hanging. In the final piece I corrected the draft for the circle to make it symmetrical. That is, I used the rule about turning blocks. You’ll find it when reading the instructions for drafting overshot.
Here is the circle I began with which was in my sampler.
In the wall hanging I made more circles at the top but with white pattern weft as well as white tabby weft for white on white. An idea to think about.
Here at the bottom of the hanging you can get an idea of the drafts I used from the sampler. For most of the hanging the texture won’t give a clue as to the blocks threaded in the sections.
The draft I used directly from the sampler was in sections 2 and 4. The corrected circle draft was used for the sections 1, 3, and 5.
I made the texture by just treadling the same pattern block over and over. With the tabby wefts as usual. The warp is a smooth rayon and the pattern weft in the textured area is a nubbly yarn. The tabby might have been the same as the warp or some other appropriate smooth yarn.
Here is the finished wall hanging that followed a very ugly sampler.
When I learned about overshot and designing for it, I wanted to try everything in my sampler. So, a different technique/design went into each of the four sections. The outside sections were similar 2-block overshot on 4 shafts.
In the section with the big X, I designed a large circle. The other middle section I designed for the optical blocks you can see further on. My other idea was to graduate the colors of the pattern wefts from dark to light—not thinking about what the yarns themselves looked like!
Here you can see both the 4-block circle and the optical circle. In 2 blocks.
Looking closely I noticed my circle wasn’t symmetrical. I had disregarded the instructions for threading turning blocks. (So that’s what turning blocks are all about!)
Progressing along with various yarns and techniques for overshot threadings, my sampler became more and more ugly.
Near the end I was just wanting to get to the end, so I tried weaving the same block over and over. I made the last section the same as the first hoping it would transform it into something nice—didn’t work!
When thinking about what my final project would be my teacher asked what my favorite part was. This repeated-one-block design was my reply. And that was enough to start me on my final design. More on that the next time.
When I was taking the double weave class at Pacific Basin Textiles in Berkeley, CA in the 70’s I decided on combing several ideas in my final project. I wanted to make a color blanket plus I wanted to try an optical illusion of a triangle laying on top of it. At first it seemed like a great simple idea.
I wanted a black frame which meant its own double weave block. No one said that all the blocks had to be the same size, right? So, one block was the color blanket and the second block was the black borders on the sides. (More on the top below). That meant 8 shafts.
I wanted the fringe to show so the viewer could appreciate how the original colors of the yarn were altered by the weaving.
My loom had 2 more shafts which I used for a separate warp for the triangle. I probably used both shafts when one would do—just because—and it spread out the dense grey yarns more that way. In a sense, that meant 3 warps with wool yarns. I never thought that it might be difficult to open the sheds. But because I had a loom built by Jim Ahrens (AVL) the sheds were not a problem.
I picked up the yarns as needed with pickup sticks for the triangle. Otherwise, they just floated in between the two outer layers.
Here’s the back of the hanging. This way I could see how black crossing all the colors would look. Also, I arranged the colors in a different order from the front side.
For another experiment, I made the border grey so I could see how grey crossing all the colors would be like.
At the top, I had to weave and extra piece to get the black border and I sewed it on. Inside, for a flat rod I used a sturdy flat metal bar.
What I learned. Right away I saw that I didn’t like the way mixtures of colors of strong value differences looked. Much later I learned that colors blended better when they were closer in value. I thought at the time I was seeing lots of samples of color combinations. I never consulted the blanket for that purpose, but I will always remember that I don’t like dark purple and bright yellow as a yarn mixture!
Order “Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps” HERE.
Introduction: The newly printed book has complete information on beaming the warp as expected plus an extensive chapter on sectional beaming. (Along with all the calculations and illustrations you’ll need.) However, there is an unexpected chapter about combining sectional and plain beaming. Here are two ways to think about it.
Strategy I Make a warp as for a plain beam and beam it on a sectional beam.
Measure a 1” or 2” section on the warping board or reel, depending on the size of the sections on your beam. In sectional beaming, many weavers do not make any crosses or choke ties. I always do. Instead of a threading cross, they use tape to keep threads in order.
Just as in plain beaming, you load a raddle or pre-sley a reed to spread out the warp. In this case, the raddle is a short section of a raddle or coarse reed, used in place of the front reed on the tension box. Put the whole section of warp together as one “ribbon” over and under the pegs in the tension box.
Attach your section of the warp to a cord on the sectional beam.
Wind the warp to fill a section of the sectional beam.
Make sure the warp exactly fits in between the pegs so the thread layers can beam on absolutely flat. Angle the tension box or rearrange the threads so that the layers are flat—they can’t build up or slope down at the peg. This is the most important step in the process. If the layers aren’t flat, the threads won’t be the same length or tension.
Strategy II. Make a section on an AVL warping wheel and beam it on a plain beam.
Make the warp, one section at a time on the warping wheel. If your raddle has 1” sections make 1” sections of the warp on warping wheel. (You make the bouts (sections) the same size as the spaces in the raddle.)
The cross-maker is an accessory to the warping wheel and is installed on one of the spokes. It easily makes the threading cross.
Load the raddle. Tie on the raddle’s cap I several places—or if it doesn’t have a cap, loop a string figure-eight fashion, or stretch rubber bands around the teeth of the raddle to keep the threads very securely in place.
Attach the raddle to the loom and wind the warp as usual. This idea came to me from Mary von Tobel from St. Louis, MO. Note: She attaches the raddle onto the loom first and finds it easy then to load the raddle as a section is made.
“If you can talk them out of tying on in front, you will be doing them a big favor.”
Jim Ahrens to Peggy in 1995
Here are the advantages and an excerpt from the chapter.
• You tie only one set of knots. The warps are automatically on tension, and you don’t need to waste time or yarn by tying onto an apron rod.
• Because the warps are always under tension they can’t tangle or break or invite mistakes. (When you pull loose, untensioned threads through the heddles, loops and snags are inevitable.)
• Keeping the threads under tension at all times is the key to pulling the knots through the heddles easily.
• You get a perfectly wound warp on the warp beam without any knots on the apron rod.
• You can accurately spread the warp on the warp beam. When working from the front, you wind the warp onto be beam after the knots are tied, using the reed as a guide to keep the warp spread to the right width. The reed is a long, long way from the warp beam, and as the knots pass through the heddles, the heddles can actually scatter the warps.
• With many looms, you can be much more comfortable tying at the back.
For the first few times at least, you’ll find tying the square knots much easier with a firm support to tie against. A board placed beneath the knot-tying area gives your thumb something to press the ends against while your fingers tie knots. It’s like having someone put their finger on the knot while you tie a bow! Later on, you may be able to tie the knots “in the air” without the support, but I still like to use one.
Position the board beneath the knot-tying area, midway between the back beam and the shafts. If your old warp is short, position the board closer to the shafts and adjust the warps so your knot-tying area is above the board.
Support the board on the side framework of your loom, or on lary sticks, or suspend it from long loops of string tied to the loom’s overhead structure. …
The top of the board should be on the same plane as the warps. It should be sturdy and in no danger of falling, so experiment with C-clamps and string, if you need to, to get a firm work surface.
When I was writing the book, I wanted to explain the tension system on the Ahrens looms I had and on AVL looms. Since Jim Ahrens is the “A” part of AVL and I was consulting with him when writing my book, I had to make sure I made it clear. I could never explain right. Finally, Jim said, “You still don’t understand it, I’ll tell you a story that I think can explain it. The system was used centuries ago; in fact, all the looms in Diderot’s Encyclopedie (1751-17172) show it. It might have been discovered like this story.” Hence “A Fairy Tale” on pages 140, 141 repeated here.
Once upon a time long, long ago before there were ratchets for looms, ways to tension the warp were very primitive. One day a weaver found a new way to put tension on the warp beam. He put a sturdy stick, like a peg, vertically in his warp beam, hooked a rope on it, wound it around and around the beam, and hung a big rock on it. With the weight off the floor, he had full warp tension, and he was very pleased with himself. As he wove along and advanced the warp, the rope wound up on the beam and the rock rose higher and higher off the ground. Prety soon he had to stop because the rock was up on the warp beam, and he had to unwind the rope to let it down. Then he wove along until the rock got too high, stopped to unwind some rope and let it down again. This worked fine and he was very, very pleased with himself.
One time when he was unwinding the rope, he pulled out the peg and the rope slipped off the stick into his hand. He was surprised when he held the end of the rope, that he didn’t have to pull hard on it at all to keep the rope from slipping around the beam. In fact, he could hold the loop in the end of the rope with one finger and the rope around the beam didn’t slip. The big rock still hung in place putting full tension on the warp!
He had been winding the rope, say, ½ dozen times around the beam, so he decided to see if he could wind fewer times. He found with only 3 turns on the beam there was still not much weight needed on the end of the rope. So he hung a small rock on the end of the rope and began weaving.
As he wove along, the big rock rose and the little rock fell until it hit the floor. Then the most amazing surprise came.
When the warp threads were lifted to open the shed, the beam rolled forward slightly, raising the big rock and lowering the small rock to the floor. The little rock touching the floor took the tension off that end of the rope for an instant. As soon as it did, the rope slipped a bit on the beam. As soon as the beam slipped, the big rock put tension back on the rope pulling the small rock up off the floor again. The slippage let the warp move forward a few thousandths of an inch—just enough to compensate for the take-up of the warp for the weft!
The big rock was off the floor, obviously, while the small rock dangled just above the floor, where it bounced and dangled on and off the floor as he wove along.
Not he didn’t have to get up and unwind the rope to let the big rock down! He could weave along continuously, and the big rock would hold the full warp tension. The little rock would let the warp beam slip a bit with each weft and also would let it slip when he advanced the warp. The two rocks remained in these positions all during his weaving. This pleased him very, very, very much.
When the shed closed, our weaver realized that the beam rolled backwards to its starting place. The tension on the warp threads never changed even when the warp threads were lifted to open the sheds, because the wight (the big rock) was always the same. This was perfect for fine silk warp threads that couldn’t stand the stress of stretching with old locked beam systems. He was enormously pleased with himself!
Rocks (with on rock ten time heavier than the other) and the weaver’s invention are still used today! (Peggy’s note: I’ve seen this over and over in my travels.)
When Jim Ahrens began using the wight-counter weight system he tried the two weights and noticed the two weights jerked when the rope slipped. Then he got the idea to use a small spring in place of the counterweight. The spring let the rope slip slowly so there was no jerk or sudden change, just smooth weaving. He came up with the idea on his own, but never claims to have invented it; he said, “I always found someone else had done the things I worked out on my own.”
When he needed to make smaller looms, there wasn’t enough room for the big weight so he substituted a heavy spring for the weight. “It was no big advance, there was no place for the weight,” he said. It works the same way as the weight and small spring. Today some AVL looms use the two-spring system, and some use an arm with a weight and the small spring.
The heavy spring (or weighted arm) puts the tension on the warp; the small spring is the counterweight. When the shed opens, the warp beam rolls forward a bit loosening the tension on the other end of the rope at the small spring. The rope slips a little. The heavy spring takes over again, putting the rope back under tension. When the shed closes the warp beam rolls back to its starting point. The slippage is a few thousandths of an inch, and the warp stays under constant tension.
As you crank the warp forward you exert more force on the warp than the force of the weight or heavy spring, causing the cord to slip. This allows the beam to turn and the warp to unwind.
Jim prefers using the combination of a heavy weight and the small spring because he can beat harder than with just the two springs. But the double springs are a good enough substitute if you don’t beat too hard.
Order your copy of Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps HERE
Introduction: The chapter is comprehensive, but I want to give a glance at what is there. Much more information is required to fully understand how various looms work and are adjusted. This is just a short introduction.
Part 2: Preview of How Looms Work
These looms have shafts that only move up when treadles are pressed. The top of the shed is made by lifting shafts and the bottom of the shed is where the warp threads rest and remain unmoved. Any number of shafts can be lifted: from on to all-but-one, making this loom favorite of American weavers because of this flexibility.
Often, but not always, the mechanism for lifting the shafts is a “jack”—a lever with a pivot in the middle. The levers work like a balance scale in that when one side of the lever (jack) is pulled down by a treadle, the other end goes up and lifts or pushes the shafts upward. Jacks can be under the shafts or above them. Usually there are two jacks for each shaft, one at each end.
A few looms are made so the shafts go down when the treadles are pressed. The weight of the foot on the treadles keeps the bottom of the shed flat. I’ve only seen one sinking shaft loom: it was my first loom, and it was homemade.
When shafts on counterbalance looms are tied to a treadle, the shafts go down when the treadle is pressed and the untreadled shafts automatically go up like a balance scale.
There are rollers, pulley, or short bars called horses that are attached so every shaft has a balancing shaft. The action is like a balance scale in that what goes down with the treadle forces a matching set of shafts to rise. Only the shafts that are to be lowered are attached to the treadles.
The weight of the foot on the treadle keeps the bottom of the shed down and forces the top of the shed to stay up. With gravity working on your side to lower the shafts and with the counterbalance action, the shafts can be very lightweight, and you can weave faster and easier. If the loom is deep enough it can make large, clean sheds with the warp under high tension.
Countermarch systems vary but all of the systems are designed so the shafts are both raised and lowered. The shafts work independently rather than being connected to each other like in counterbalance looms. Between the shafts and the treadles there are two sets of lams, which are levers or bars. The upper set of lams is usually shorter and the lower set of lams, longer.
Most countermarch systems have above each shaft a jack or a pair of jacks (levers with pivots in the middle). When one end of the jack is pulled down, the other end goes up.
The lower set of lams is attached to the jacks overhead, and the upper set of lams is directly attached to the bottoms of the shafts. Think “Long lams lift; short lams sink”
The sheds are made by tying up the treadles so all the shafts that are to be lifted are connected to the lower set of lams, and all the shafts that are to sink are tied to the upper set of lams.
Usually, the lams pivot at the side of the loom (like railroad gates); however, some countermarch systems are designed with lams that are not attached to the side of the loom.
Order your copy of “Warping Your Loom & Tying on New Warps” HERE
Introduction: In this post I share the beginning of the chapter about shed geometry which applies to all types of looms. In future posts, I’ll briefly explain how different looms work. The complete chapter in the book has comprehensive directions on how to adjust jack, counterbalance, and countermarch looms.
Part I: Why to put the most threads on the first shafts.
Before the loom is ready for weaving, it may be necessary to adjust it so the warp, treadles, and lams are in the best position to make good sheds, to make the best quality cloth, and to make your weaving comfortable. If the bottom of the shed isn’t flat, the shuttle will skip threads as it passes through. If the warp isn’t the correct starting position, ridges can appear in the cloth.
Many weavers know counterbalance and countermarch looms need special adjusting, but they don’t know that jack looms can need some adjusting, too. Before you can adjust anything though, you need to understand how things ought to be and why. A little bit of loom geometry also helps in many situations.
Weavers know that when the shed is open to receive the shuttle, some warp threads are up and some down. But it’s also important where the bottom and top of the shed are located, and where the shed itself is open the most. If you visualize the open shed, you know that it is open the widest at the heddle eyes, where the individual warp threads are being held up and down. The size of the shed gets smaller and smaller going away from that point, until it barely opens at all at the fell of the cloth (the last weft woven) and at the back beam. In the illustration you see a shed but there is also an extra cord with a weight at each end going through the center of the shed. I call that a temporary diagnostic string. It can help clarify where the top and bottom of a shed are. For a clearer view see the final illustration in this post.
To help to understand lams, treadles, and sheds, think of a railroad crossing gate. Compare the size of a gate crossing a country lane to the size of a gate crossing a wide boulevard. When the longer gate swings up and down, its far end must travel a great deal more distance than when the short gate swings up. But the gates are alike where they’re attached at the pivot—neither moves much distance at all. When either gate swings up or down, its far end moves a much greater distance than the pivot end. Another way to help visualize the different distances travelled whether you’re close or far from the pivot point is to think of ice skaters making a pinwheel. The ones nearest the center of the circle move very little, while those at the outside have to skate like mad and skate much further to keep up.
I use these images in teaching whenever there is an angle or a pivot on the loom: sheds make angles; treadles, lams, and jacks have pivots. These principles can guide you through setting up and adjusting any kind of loom.
The application of the gate idea explains why in some looms (especially those with many shafts), the shaft that is the farthest away from the fell (the “last” shaft) is designed to raise or lower the threads more than the front shaft that is closest to the fell. See the illustration. This means that all the warps threaded on the back shaft travel more than the other warp threads—taking more effort from you to lift or lower them. For this reason, if some shafts in a weave draft have many more threads than others, put those threads on shafts near the front of the loom, e.g. shafts 1 and 2. This creates less strain on you and the threads. You won’t have to lift the threads so high, and the threads won’t have to move so far.
Some looms raise and/or lower all the shafts the same distance, and the threads lifted by the back shaft aren’t raised higher than the front ones. See the illustration. Notice that the threads on the last shaft are getting lower and lower as they approach the fell of the cloth, and at the position of the beater where you throw the shuttle, the threads on shaft one are lifted higher than those on the back shaft. This is another reason to put the most threads on the first shafts. Notice also that the height of the shed is reduced by the threads from the back shafts. This also might be a feature to keep in mind when buying a multi-shaft loom.
The depth of the loom from the shafts to the back beam allows the shed geometry to work or not. Remember, the pivot or stationary place at the back of the loom is the back beam and the moving end of the railroad gate is at the heddle eyes, where the warp threads go up and down. If there are many shafts, there needs to be enough room for the threads to move the distance required. If the loom is too shallow, it puts too much strain on the warp threads and tends to prevent the shafts from moving.
My point is that some looms simply don’t work very well because their designer didn’t understand loom geometry. For this reason, I don’t recommend building a homemade loom. A lot of effort could be put into a loom that won’t work well.
As promised: an illustration of just the temporary diagnostic string. It is used when adjusting looms.
Almost a year ago I sent my books to a shop in Australia, called the Weaving Room. That’s when Sharon Harris, the owner of the shop, 13,000 km away contacted me because she thought my 2nd book needed to be back in print.
Then a most beautiful thing happened when we two women who don’t know each other, worked together across the world to produce an “amazing book “(her words) that has been out of print for years. The First Edition came out 26 years ago and has been in demand consistently ever since. This is the Fourth Edition.
It has been available only as a pdf for several years until now.
The cost may surprise you, but 26 years after the first books were printed costs have increased as you can imagine. The price will be $55. For those people who bought the original pdf, I offer a 15% discount off the new printed edition. To take advantage, send a message in the comments section with your name, address, and email address. (I have a record of all who ordered the PDF). I’ll email you how to send your payment by PayPal.
The cost of the PDF will remain the same as before: $27.50. I’m thrilled to see it in print again. When I look at the chapters, I see that much of the information is valuable and not in any of the other books at all. Of course, thorough explanations of warping the loom are included. In addition, there are chapters on: Sectional beaming, Tying On New Warps, Adjusting Looms, Two or More Warps, Designing Random Stripes, Knots and more. In a future post I’ll show example pages. I think you’ll see that “having her books at your loom is like having a patient, knowledgeable teacher at your side” as the back cover says.
A couple of years ago my tech guy suggested we make a Kindle booklet on hemstitching since it was the number one inquiry in my weaving tips section on my website. I use it at my loom every time I do hemstitching. The second booklet is on knots—something I thought really would be useful right next to the loom on an iPhone, or other devices.
The slip knot is my absolute favorite knot. I can remember the days when how to tie it was so elusive. It was shown to me over and over but I just didn’t “get” it for a long time. I guess I learned it by trial and error until it became as familiar as my right hand; my hands knew how to tie it. It was a big part of the motivation to include a knots chapter in my book, Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps. I wanted to SHOW how it was tied so others could learn it. I’ve included it below. (The whole knots chapter is in the Kindle booklet. See below.) Slip knot A slip knot is a temporary knot that secures a single thread or groups of threads. Its reatest asset is that it can be quickly untied with a jerk with one hand. It’s often used to tie groups of warp ends after they have been threaded in the heddles so they won’t slip out. Every weaver should know the slip knot because it is used so often—whenever you want to secure something temporarily. It’s my favorite knot, and it’s the one I almost always automatically tie—just in case I’ll need to undo it.
To make a slip knot: To make the first loop, you can use either the tail or the standing end, whichever seems easier to tie in the situation. In this example I’m using the standing end, but you could just as easily make the loop with the tail and proceed as follows.
Make a loop. (I take the standing end over the back of my left hand or over a few fingers and cross the standing end on top of the tail of the string.) Hold where the hreads cross in a pinch between your thumb and forefinger.
Reach through the loop with the right forefinger and thumb and grasp the standing end and pull it through the loop, so that it makes a loop within the first loop. (If you were to begin the knot with the tail making the first loop, and the tail were being drawn through as the second loop, make sure you pull the tail only part way through, not completely through. If you pulled the tail through, you wouldn’t have the second loop.)
Be sure to tighten the knot until you feel it bite. To do that you pull the loop and the tail in opposite directions.
To release the knot: Just jerk on the end you made the loops with, in this case the standing end. I made this little booklet so you could have it on your iPhone or other devices. Want to know how to tie a weaver’s knot? There are 3 ways shown as well as “how to undo a weaver’s knot. Of course, square and granny knots are included, as is the lark’s head knot, and other knots for weavers. I like it because you can have it at the loom up close when you need it. The cost is $2.99 and you can order from Amazon.
Introduction: Log cabin weave has been mentioned in previous texts: 5/15/2019, 1/27/2021, 1/29/21, and 2/8/2021 and. You can search for them by clicking on the magnifying glass in the upper right area of this home page and typing in “log cabin”. Be sure to use the quote marks. Then hit Enter and the posts should show up. You can search for your own ideas in the same manner.
The simplicity of the design of this shawl makes it truly beautiful and very wearable. In a previous post (Dec. 2, 2021) I mentioned a quote I found from Anni Albers: “It’s the middle color that’s important/interesting.” This very large supple shawl is a fine example. Here we see sections of dark, medium, and light values.
The dark areas in the corners stand out. The mixture of black and white form the middle value on the bottom and sides. The light value area is in the middle.
The main part of the shawl is the pattern that weavers call “log cabin”. Its mysterious pattern intrigued me so much that I wove it in my beginning weaving class project. This can be woven on a rigid heddle loom with 2. Go to the post dated 1/27/2021 .
In my book, “Weaving for Beginners” I say: “This is a weave with vertical and horizontal lines appearing in the cloth. It is actually plain weave but looks like an entirely different structure. When the structure is disguised by the colors of the yarns, we call this phenomenon, “color and weave effect.” These weave effects are based on dark and light threads in the warp and/or the weft.”
Here is how the dark and light threads are threaded in the heddles. You can modify this threading to make vertical as well as horizontal lines. Look at the threading closely at the next illustration. Under the letter “A” note that the dark and light yarns are threaded (reading right to left) dark, light, dark, light, etc. Now inspect the threading in the area at “B”. The colors are threaded LIGHT, DARK, LIGHT, DARK, etc. The same principle works for the rigid heddle loom’s 2 shafts.
You will need two shuttles: one shuttle with dark yarn and the other with light. Vertical and horizontal lines will appear as you weave along when you use the appropriate weft color with the appropriate lifted shafts. Read on.
Throw the shuttle with the dark yarn when you lift shafts 1 and 3. Thrown the shuttle with the light yarn when you lift shafts 2 and 4. You should see vertical and horizontal lines appearing. This is shown in the illustration for the top section of weaving.
When you weave the reverse of what you did in the first section: by throwing the light shuttle when shafts 1 and 3 are lifted, and the dark shuttle when shafts 2 and 4 are raised. You will get the opposite result with the vertical lines being where the horizontal lines were and vice versa.
Again, the same principle applies for weaving on a rigid heddle loom. When you throw the dark shuttle on the front shaft, lines will appear. When you throw the dark weft on the back shaft, the vertical and horizontal lines will reverse.
NOTE THIS TIP: Look at the illustration and notice that the horizontal margins of the blocks are more distinct where two dark wefts are shown woven one after the other at the second section change. You can make both the horizontal and vertical margins of the blocks solid colors (outlined) if you make both the warp and the weft changes with the dark threads together. In the threading, have two dark threads together at the edges of the sections to make the vertical margins. Weave two dark wefts together at the section changes for the horizontal margins. If you want the blocks to float, use two light colors as above, instead.
My New Year’s resolution is to work on the data base for my collection of textiles. It’s a pleasure to get things out and look at them again. This is the back of an under kimono. Women liked to wear red under their proper outer kimono. The silk is silky, the hem is padded, and the size is ample. I love it and decided to hang it for a while in my bedroom. The last picture is the most precious one.
Here is the front. Hard to imagine it all being covered up by an outer kimono. It must have made a woman feel good.
Here is a close look at the patterns in the outer fabric.
The lining of this under kimono is extremely special because it was dyed with safflowers. You can tell by the color. It generally is fugitive, meaning it fades in time. The lining is almost tissue thin. A hidden treasure. It must have felt sumptuous to wear.
A composition using the paints I made in the Michel Garcia workshop at Slow Fiber Studios. I’m playing with value completely. The grid paper is some a friend gave me. I think it is meant for people to use while practicing calligraphy. Chinese? Japanese? The paper is thin–almost like tissue paper. Hence the wrinkles. I did another version with a different set of my indigo paints–and the brush marks don’t show as much. I’m not sure why they show so much with these, but that’s the way they “painted”.
A composition I made as a collage. I made many marks and textures with the paints. Cut them apart and reassembled them. I have a lot more to cut up and put together when I have time!
Here is my pallet. I arranged the two batches in order light to dark for choosing which value of blue I needed for the compositions, etc. The “Maya Blue” set of paints were used for the first photo. I probably didn’t grind the pigment enough and/or didn’t “do” the egg white or egg yolk binders properly. The letter W is for egg white. The Y is for egg yolk and the G for gum arabic which are what I used for binders to make paints out of the pigment. (Made from indigo powder and various clays as binders.)
Here are some of the tubes of paint I made.
Here is my first little composition. It was going to be a weave pattern, but I screwed up the value on the first line so just didn’t follow the order of lights and darks where they were supposed to be. I like it quite a lot.
I’m still painting with the watercolor paints I made with dried indigo leaves. (I got the powder from Slow Fiber Studios). I find coloring in the squares immensely fun! Here is a finished painting using three values of the same color: dark, light, and medium blues. It’s fun figuring out what value (shades) go where. Value in color theory means how dark or light a color is.
I found a scrap of a note from a book by Anni Albers. It says page 221, 222 but I can’t find the book in my library. I hope someone can find it. She says, “It’s the middle color that’s important/interesting.” Here I show my painting without the middle (value) color. It’s just black and white. I think the picture is much more interesting with the middle colors as Anni says. Her quote inspired my paintings since I’m just working with different values of blue paint.
Here is the Star Fashion version. I think the medium blues do enhance it.
Here is a version of the rose version after I’d painted in only the darks and lights. However, if you consider the white paper the very light, you can see that the light blue becomes the “medium” value and does make it pretty interesting. Much better than only the dark and light seen in the second photo.
Introduction: I’ve been painting with the paints I made from Indigo powder. I began with these block designs. Look for more compositions in future posts. I’m having lots of fun. Each pair of photos was painted with the same paint but maybe lighter or darker. Each one is about 3” square. Can you identify which are the roses and which are the stars?
My first and second Rose and Star paintings. All the paintings are about 3” square. This was my comfort zone for compositions when I began.
The third and fourth ones. I always painted the Rose first so the Star often was in response to how the rose came out.
The last set. All these paintings were using special paints that had egg yolk or egg white for binders. I never could get a smooth water-color look from those. Next, I’ll use the paints that were made using gum arabic. I hope the look will be a lot different from these, but I’m not complaining.
Introduction: Just like chopping wood warms twice, Lausanne Allen’s woven Rose and Star Fashion potholders pleased twice: once for the weaving and once (or twice) for giving and receiving the gifts.
A year ago, in the height of not knowing what to expect from our first winter in the pandemic I warped my barn frame loom with what I affectionately called a “gratitude “ warp. It was threaded to this same single block of the Whig Rose pattern, woven to be potholder gifts for everyone on my long list of friends and acquaintances who had made 2020 a more bearable year for my husband and I. Here are some photos to share from my first (blue) warp last December 2020 and a second warp (green) that was finished in mid-January, 2021.
The calming pleasure found in my daily weaving habit grew as did my gratitude list . A second longer warp using a different color prolonged the pleasure as each pad became an opportunity to sample another pattern weft yarn. Each one became a meditation and each one different.
Giving these gifts, whether to the mailman who drove up our long slippery hill with needed packages when we didn’t dare to go out, or to long cherished friends we could now only visit with “virtually” in our winter of self isolation filled my days with a purpose that calmed me.
Weaving these every day on a sturdy barn frame loom became cherished time for me, marked by the steady shoosh of the overhead beater, the occasional squeak of the wooden pulleys and the rhythmic dance of the wooden horses at every press of the oak treadles. A few years ago my husband carved horses, treadles and pulleys for this old loom, so I could remove the shiny polished chrome pulleys that had come with it. Weaving on this old loom brings such a feeling of contentment. A fresh snowfall provided a sense of wonderland outside my window.
Of course I wove some in each treadling fashion and as I did I tried to analyze why these two different treadling sequences yielded such different results. Your explanation here in terms of blocks makes perfect sense! All I understood then was that if I made a little clock face circle, with 1-2 at noon, 2-3 at 3, 3-4 at 6 and 4-1 at 9 that Rose treadling went clockwise around the circle, and Star treadling went counterclockwise, of course starting from a different place. The clock face made it easy to find my place when interrupted but didn’t explain why in terms of block theory,… As I write I’m feeling the urge coming on to begin a new gratitude list for the shortest days of the year that await us…. Now what shall I weave? Soon the cycle will begin again. What shall be this winter’s gratitude warp I wonder… in what will hopefully be a snowy Vermont again in little more than a month! I think the word is hygge.
(Peggy’s note) Hygge: a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture). “why not follow the Danish example and bring more hygge into your daily life?” It is pronounced “hoo-gah”).
The warp was a soft 8/4 cotton “Cottontale” and the weft mostly three strands of a mercerized cabled Dk weight knitting cotton, called “Cleo” , carefully wound on a rag shuttle so they would display their sheen, smoothly lofting up as pattern weft without twisting. It took a little more tweaking to keep them from twisting when being wound but it was worth it I think.
Introduction: I’ve taken a workshop with Slow Fiber Studios in making paints from indigo leaves and indigo powder. Now that I’ve made the various indigo blue paints, I want to paint something. I’m thinking of painting some block designs. I began thinking about painting the same pattern in both Star and Rose versions. I always get mixed up about how to make Rose Fashion so had to look up the information yet again. My favorite books for this are “Weaves and Pattern Drafting” by John Tovey and The Weaving Book Patterns and Ideas by Helene Bress. These books go into much more detail, but here are the basic principles and that are enough for me at this point.
The two variations are made with the IDENTICAL THREADING. The variation is in the treadling only. The treadling ORDER is as DRAWN IN. This illustration shows what is meant by “treadle as drawn in”. Another way to think of it as “Tromp as Writ” except we are talking about the order of weaving whole blocks—not thread by thread. In a sense you are copying the threading in the treadling.
First you treadle the first thing that is threaded which I’ve numbered as 1. You weave that block the same LENGTH as it is WIDE. In other words, the first thing in this illustration says to weave block A for as many rows as it takes to make it as tall as it is wide. (a tall block) Then, all the blocks that are threaded as A Block will be that tall as well.
Second, you weave (treadle) the second thing in the threading (2): Block B, for as tall as it is wide in the threading. (another tall block) Again, ALL the B Blocks will be that height or that many picks.
Third, you will weave Block A but in this draft you will weave it for only a few rows because in the threading draft in the (3) position the block isn’t very wide. Again, all the A Blocks will now be woven for only a very few picks this time.
I hope you can see from the illustration how treadled as drawn in follows the order and size of the blocks in the threading.
The 4th thing to treadle is a tall B Block, and the 5th is to treadle a tall Block A.
Star Fashion Star Fashion is the same as treadle as drawn in which I described above.
The result when you weave Star Fashion is that a diagonal line is formed in the woven pattern.
Rose Fashion This is the result of weaving Rose Fashion. There is no diagonal. At first glance, it may appear that Rose Fashion is just the reverse of Star Fashion, and that one side of the cloth weaves Star Fashion while the other side weaves Rose Fashion. This is not true. The inversion of pairs of blocks produces its own, unique effect.
When the treading draft says Block A, you weave Block B instead. And the reverse. Whenever it says Block B, treadle Block A. Notice this reversal in the previous photo (repeated here). Remember, you are treadlingthe height that the block is wide in the threading draft just as before. The only difference is WHICH BLOCK you treadle. And you are following the order and size of blocks as drawn in in the treadling.
This handy chart is found in The Weaving Book by Helene Bress. Every time I wonder how to get Rose Fashion, I come back to this chart.
This is also from the Helene Bress book. I think it clearly shows the diagonal formed with weaving Star Fashion and something completely different when treadling Rose Fashion.
Introduction: I made the draft of this post when I was threading the loom for my box project. My report is that I only made one mistake and that was missing the heddle eye! A previous post gives 3 tricks for threading. See it here: 5/31/2020
Here I have the crosses for my two warps hanging vertically over a broom handle behind the heddles. This makes it easier to see the crosses when threading.
The illustration shows a clear picture of the set-up for threading. To stabilize the lease sticks I tie the top one to the broom handle. Look closely and you can see it.
I get as close to the heddles as I can. For my loom, that means taking out the beater and the breast beam.
How to know which shaft a heddle is on. It’s easier to see what shaft a heddle is on if you look at the bottoms of the shafts. Here is a close-up.
Push all your counted-out heddles to the left (for right-handers) and stagger the heddles on the shafts so you can find which one you need easily as seen here. Left-handers would stagger them the same way but have them over on the right side of the shafts.
I have enough warp available so there is plenty ( I mean plenty) for threading, sleying the reed, AND tying on.
Position the cross (I have two because I made two warps to thread into the heddles) so you can see it easily when you are sitting on your threading stool.
Here’s my set-up with my low stool. The pillow is for my knees when I struggle to get up!