Sunday, January 31, 2010

Towel Rich

Spent the better part of 3 hours at the annex pressing. I'd forgotten I'd left a pile of tea towels up there, so not only did I press everything I brought today, I tackled the stack of towels that were already there, too.

Which reminded me that I am tea towel rich. So, given that the need is great, here is one more chance to get a tea towel in exchange for a donation to Doctors Without Borders.

Details here:

If you have already received a towel for a donation, yes, you have to make another donation to get another towel. :)

And one more quote from the book I'm reading by Daniel Tammet:

Without our individual talents, we would all be blank slates, slaves to whatever environment we were born into. Instead, every person can have confidence knowing that, by our very humanity, we each have something unique and beautiful to contribute to the world around us. In the end, it is not the size of our brains that matters, but the depth of our spirits.

Amen, Daniel. Amen.

Why I don't FTB

I seem to be in 'beige' mode...

Sharon asked why I don't dress the loom front to back.

The truth is that I dressed the loom that way for several years when I was first learning to weave. Since I was slow at everything associated with weaving, neither process seemed faster or slower than the other. Front to back seemed, at the time, to be a more direct logical process.
And it worked - within the parameters of the cloth I was constructing.

Unfortunately it stopped working when I pushed beyond those parameters......

In my experience those parameters in which ftb works best are:
Using a yarn thicker than a 2/8 or 2/10 cotton grist
Using a yarn that is strong - not fine or singles or highly textured
Warps that are less than about 5 yards in length
Warps that are narrower than about 20 inches in width
Warps that are not densely set

One of the reasons ftb stops working is that once you cut the loops at the end of the warp it is extremely difficult to tie the individual ends back together and now have slack - or difference in length - introduced into the warp chain.

This slack or length difference then has to be eased the entire length of the warp to the other end. Not a big deal if the warp is less than 5 yards, but starts to become a nightmare of gigantic proportions if it is longer than that, wound from fine/tender/textured yarns, or is a wider warp.
I have found that warping back to front easily deals with every situation I have confronted - very fine threads, textured yarns, long/wide warps.

It is now my default process. If I can beam an 11 meter long warp in less than 20 minutes with minimal combing, tangles, headaches.....I'm all for encouraging people to at least consider learning it.

I also want to share a comment from the book I'm currently reading because it seems so appropriate:

The learning curve shows us that, while practice will always help improve performance, the most dramatic improvements happen first, with diminishing returns thereafter. It also implies that with sufficient practice individuals can achieve comparable levels of performance in a wide range of tasks, but only if the learner does not relax as soon as an acceptable performance is reached. Rather, expertise comes solely from a continuous process of structured, diligent study. (my italics)

It is a philosophy I have followed for over 30 years. Analyse my results. Am I happy with those results? Can I change my process to improve my results? My latest tweak in the process of beaming has given me a small but significant improvement in how much time it takes to do that stage of the process. Why would I do something more slowly than it needs to be done, given that I'm trying to earn an income from my efforts?

I do understand that not everyone has the same goal of generating an income. I also understand that Life is 'busy' for most people. Time is precious. We can never make more of it. If we 'waste' it by choosing to use processes that are artificially slow, that is the choice we make. But often times, people don't know that there are different choices that can be made. My message is that there are choices. Choose what you want, don't just do it because that's the way you learned originally.

OTOH, if people are happy, nothing more need be done. But for those people who are not happy, who are finding that they are pushing beyond the parameters of a process, look around. You may just find that there is a different way of doing something that will bring greater satisfaction than what you are currently doing.

I'm just saying.....

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weaving Efficienies, part II

option #2 treadling/tie-up

Last night I dressed the small loom with a placemat warp and kept an eye on the clock to see if my new tweaked process was going to be faster than my previous method.

I dress the loom back to front, using a reed to rough-sley the warp. When I got an 'ordinary' smaller loom with plain beam a few years ago, I didn't have all the usual equipment needed - i.e. no raddle. I borrowed a raddle from the guild and found that it really didn't do the job for the 2/20 merc. cotton I was using. Just way too many threads in the 1/2" sections.

Remembering that Scandinavian weavers just rough sley a reed, I took the borrowed raddle back to the guild room and have been using a reed ever since.

The 11 meter 2/8 cotton warp had been rough-sleyed (four ends in a 5 dent reed) the night before so I just timed the actual dressing of the loom.

My process consists of the following steps.

>Insert reed with rough-sleyed warp into the beater.

>At the back of the loom, insert the apron rod into the warp loops, centering the warp onto the apron.

>Gently pull any pigtail curls out of the warp loops

>Go to front of loom, grab warp at the choke tie and gently ease the warp forward. Slide the lease sticks back and forth to encourage the warp ends to even out from the choke tie, around the apron rod and back to the choke tie. There should be no slack apparent in the loops

>Drape the warp chain over the warping valet. Give the warp a couple of tugs and attach the water jug to the chain to provide tension as the warp is rolled on. Remove choke ties.

>Move the lease sticks up the warp chain as high as they will go.

>Begin rolling the warp onto the warp beam. After one complete revolution of warp onto beam, insert bamboo blind.

>Roll on until water jugs reach warping valet or lease sticks reach breast beam

>Re-hang water jugs lower down the chain, move lease sticks up to valet removing ties as encountered

>Repeat until warp is beamed, inserting additional bamboo blinds as required (5 for an 11 meter long warp.)

>Keeping the water jugs (and therefore tension) on the warp, transfer cross to behind the reed, inserting sticks into Angel Wings.

>Remove water jugs.

>Cut loops, remove reed from beater.

Warp is now ready to thread.

From the time I began to insert the reed into the beater until the time I finished cutting the loops at the front of the loom less than 20 minutes had elapsed. I also answered the phone and had a short conversation during this time.

It took longer to type this blog out than to beam the warp. :^)

One of my students sent some comments I'd like to share:

Being Laura's student changed my life as a weaver, changed how I think of myself. But I don't do some of the things I learned from Laura. Is that blasphemy? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure Laura wouldn't think so, either, since the things I don't do are things that would make the process take longer, or be more uncomfortable, or not work in my space. There is so much I DO use - and learning to be more efficient also taught me to be more flexible.

And that's the thing. There is always - ALWAYS - something that can be improved. Things will always keep on changing and all the evidence points to the resiliency of human endeavors, spirit, and creativity despite change. Weaving has been around for at least 20,000 years and changing how you do some little thing or another won't ruin it all. Just try - try long enough to get good at the technique and then if you don't want to use it, well, at least you know that you can because someday your circumstances might change.

Thanks Sharon. I don't think I could have said it better!

We all have to work within our own particular circumstances. Our physical abilities and *dis*abilities. Our budgets. Our available time. Our space. Our equipment.

There are some items of weaving equipment I would not use if it were given to me. I don't find them efficient, and I refuse to work artificially slowly due to poorly designed or manufactured equipment.

But others don't find them a problem, and in fact, quite love them. Each to their own.

My message is that there are options. There are different choices for equipment, and processes. If you don't like the results you are getting, perhaps it isn't you, it's your methods, or your equipment. But a new weaver who doesn't know that there are options will struggle on, thinking it's all operator error.

While it's a bit early, I have received confirmation that I will be (possibly!) presenting seminars at NEWS next year on weaving efficiently. The paperwork is also underway to present a 5 day workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School. If you have any interest in learning how I do what I do, there are two opportunities on the eastern seaboard of the US next year.

I'm also supposed to be teaching at the Ozark Folk School in Joplin, MO this May. One of the classes is a "beginning" weaving class. I'll present all my hints and tips there.

Currently reading Embracing the Wide Sky by Daniel Tammet

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weaving Efficiencies

Industrial cone winder - winding off of large mill cones to smaller re-sale cones.

From time to time people will comment to me about how productive I am. I'm sure that some of them think I'm chained to the loom for 14 hours a day. :}

The fact of the matter is that - since choosing weaving as a career in 1975 - I have spent a lot of time learning the most efficient (to me) and ergonomic ways of doing the various tasks associated with weaving. Not to mention purchasing efficient equipment - like the industrial cone winder.

I rarely spend more than 5 hours a day at the loom, usually much less - especially since all my health challenges. :(

What I do I do efficiently and effectively. The biggest investment in the creation of hand woven textiles is the labour so I have spent a lot of time analyzing the movements and refining them so that my body works as ergonomically and effectively as possible.

I have adopted with alacrity new techniques when I find them, constantly working out where the bottlenecks are and how I might minimize them - a la recently tweaking how I dress the small loom using the warping valet. A very minor change that has reaped enormous rewards in significantly reducing the time it takes to beam a warp.

But I am not unique in this. Anyone - and I do mean anyone - can learn to be more efficient.

First they have to realize that they are not working as efficiently as they might. Then they have to find out what part of the process needs to be changed. Finally they have to spend the time to unlearn deeply embedded muscle memory and make a purposeful effort to learn new motions, taking the time to make those motions their new default.

What I do is not magic; it is simply the determination to streamline the process so that I don't waste any of my time, or injure myself with repetitive motions.

When I'm teaching workshops I always offer to demo to the students. Many times I hear muttered comments "Oh I can't do that." Well, yes, you can if you want to. I understand how painful it is to wallow at the low, slippery end of the learning curve. But I don't have time to spare to do something slowly if I can do it efficiently. So I am willing to stumble along feeling fumble fingered for the 5 or 6 or 7 warps it may take for me to learn a new physical task.

It was heartening to watch the 5 private students who have come to me in the past while - all determined to learn how to be more efficient. All left after their 3-5 days having made significant progress in the areas that concerned them most. (If any of you are reading this and want to comment, feel free - if your comments are too long for the comment section email me and I'll do a guest post.)

I have been approached to teach seminars on working efficiently. As soon as I have signed contracts those events will be posted to the Schedule page on my website.

In the end, if you are happy with the results you are getting there is no need to change anything.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Aspect of Selvedges

Finished weaving runner number one and decided to use a textured rayon/linen weft in plain weave for number two.

I'm really liking how it is turning out but...oops! Can you see the flare at the selvedge? The difference in width between the two fabrics is nearly 1.5 inches. This is going to potentially cause a problem with the selvedges as the wider fabric won't wind onto the cloth beam properly on top of the narrower fabric roll.

In a case like this I add packing - sticks to be precise. The bamboo blinds aren't that easy to wind onto the cloth beam because they will get in the way of treadling.

And yes, I sell the rayon/linen textured yarn. I think it will make great towel weft, but the towels I wove up late last year still need hemming...


Such a fuss about selvedges at times.
What I've found over the years is that there is no one thing that will guarantee good selvedges.
First of all, the warp must be evenly wound onto the beam with good tension. If it isn't, selvedges are likely to be terrible. The warp must be well packed too. A cigar shaped warp will mean poor selvedges. I use bamboo blinds between layers of the warp on the small loom. On the big loom with the sectional beam, each section is wound under tight tension so that threads cannot cut down into lower layers.
A good rule of thumb is that the warp should have equal to or slightly greater tension as it is being beamed as will be applied during weaving. It can be a little less, but any slack left in the warp as it is beamed may show up in the woven cloth in the form of uneven fell line, uneven beating, excessive draw in or poor selvedges.
The weaver must then throw and catch the shuttle well, leaving a good angle on the weft and not trapping the weft into the opposite selvedge with too little slack on it to allow it to seat properly into the cloth.
Watch my videos (click on video clip label below) for hints and tips on how to hold, throw and catch the shuttle.
Adding a plain weave selvedge to a weave structure with much fewer interlacements will make a smily fell line - unequal build up of the cloth at the selvedge. This will result in bad selvedges.
A floating selvedge is not necessary when weaving an ordinary fabric. A float length of 2 or 3 picks at a set of 24 epi/ppi is not going to result in a poor selvedge.
Picking at the selvedge will just elongate the yarns, resulting in worse and worse results. Don't touch them (unless the weft gets jammed, as with the pesky linen, and then don't pluck the warp threads but open the shed releasing the trapped weft as I showed in a previous post).
Keep your hands out of the shed. Shoving your hand and arm into the shed at regular intervals will elongate the threads causing uneven tension - and poor selvedges.
Currently reading What Remains of Heaven by C. S. Harris

Monday, January 25, 2010


One of the challenges in weaving for sale is - at times - weaving the colour choice of the customer, not one's own.

The warp for this table runner is a sort of kahki green and a greyed brown. The weft is a greyed beige.

These would not be my first choice for colours, but they are the choice of a client. Since she'll know what she likes when she sees it I put on a long warp and will weave several table runners, each with a different weft for different looks and she can choose the one she wants. The rest will go into inventory. I'm very low on table textiles, so making some extra runners is probably A Good Thing.

The pattern actually shows up better in the photo than in real life - it's one of my favourites - Wall of Troy. The two colours in the warp were threaded randomly. The warp is 2/8 cotton, and for this runner I'm using 2/8 cotton weft. The others will possibly be cotton flake - I've got some in natural and some in a warm beige which may - or may not - go with the very subdued colours in the warp. Only a sample will tell.

Talkin' bout Towels

I'm really pleased with how the current warp is weaving up - subtle!

Some people wonder why I don't promote linen more as a towel yarn. Why do I promote cotton?

Well, actually, what I promote is a very specific yarn combination, one that includes linen.

Why do I call this combination of 2/16 cotton set at 32 epi and 22/2 cottolin weft the 'perfect' towel rather than some other combination?

Check the absorbency comparison I did - click on the absorbency label below.

Linen is a wonderful fibre. Unfortunately it has special needs. The most important of those needs is the requirement of higher humidity than I live in. Trying to weave with a linen warp, especially in a grist and twist appropriate for towels becomes a nightmare of tangles, snarls and snapped threads.

I am not going to recommend to inexperienced weavers that linen is the only appropriate choice for towels - especially if they also live in an area of low humidity.

Neither do I recommend Perle cottons, no matter how pretty and strong they may be. Perle cottons, as I understand it, were originally spun by DMC for embroidery yarns. They are combed, very dense, and very very strong. Beginning weavers love this yarn because it gives them very little difficulty as warp and their strength, luster and rich colours are very attractive.

But they aren't terribly absorbent because of their density.

Many new weavers do not understand that the construction of the yarn is what causes the yarn to be less absorbent than another cotton yarn. The only difference they see is that Perle yarns are mercerized. They then assume that the mercerization process has reduced the absorbency instead of how densely the yarns are engineered.

Likewise I don't recommend 100% 2/20 mercerized cotton (not a Perle cotton, just mercerized) because the yarn is so absorbent it becomes saturated very quickly.

(Just like not all tissues are Kleenex, not all mercerized yarns are Perle.)

I love linen. It makes a wonderful textile, suitable for many things - anything from household linens to garments.

I just don't love weaving 100% linen here where I live. Even as weft this doubled 24 nm linen is pesky - but well worth the trouble of using it to make what I believe are going to be really lovely towels.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

This 'n That

Finally collected and cleaned off enough bobbins for a full day's weaving. Having woven with linen previously starting out without soaking bobbins, then half way through soaking them, I knew that the yarn would beat in differently. Or could. So I didn't want to dampen the bobbins if I couldn't weave a whole towel with bobbins that had been treated the same.

So now that I have enough bobbins for a day, I fill all the bobbins at the end of the weaving day, place them in a baggie with a wet piece of tissue and leave them overnight.

This higher humidity doesn't entirely tame the weft as the interior doesn't get as moist as the exterior, but it does help somewhat. The big change I've noticed is an improvement in the selvedges. With the linen slightly moist it is more pliable and turns the corners better. For that reason alone it's worth doing.

Frankly my selvedges aren't great on these towels, but the overall quality of the cloth is such that I'm not stressing over selvedges that aren't as good as usual. We are talking linen, so I'm just sayin.....

The last couple of days have been taken up with a lot of admin work so I haven't done as much weaving as I'd prefer. But the admin stuff has to be done too, and with the imminent arrival of the fibres from Ashland Bay it was time to deal with it.

The good news is that the iron supplements appear to be helping and my energy levels have been getting better so there is less tendency to just sit and play games on the computer. :}

My webmaster is working on a Paypal shopping cart for the fibres on my website and I'm trying to decide if I keep my Art Fire store going after this year. (I pre-paid for the year locking in a low price.) But if I have a shopping cart on my own website, do I really need Art Fire? Hmm.

And developing a customer list, crunching numbers for pricing, applying for shows and ignoring the deadline for teaching at conferences and events because I've still got a couple of weeks left to do those.

Being a professional weaver isn't just about weaving. It's about keeping your business going, too, and things administrative tasks like up coming shows, doing the books, filing taxes etc., can't be ignored.

The internet is well and good, but I find - at least here in Canada - that people are reluctant to buy textiles and yarns on the 'net unless they've seen and felt them in person first. So shows are an important part of staying in business.

And then there's my volunteer work. I'm secretary for an association that has taken to having on-line meetings so it seems like there are a few emails everyday that I need to track and decide if it is necessary to record them or if they fall under the heading of 'chatter'. I also volunteered (who was that person raising my hand????) to sell the local guild's surplus/duplicate library books. Little did I know how many there were! I've brought home two boxes filled with books and there are two more boxes at the guild room! Today I listed 10 titles, including The Magic of Linen by Linda Heinrich (our local guild's very first president!), Allen Fannin's Handloom Weaving Technology and a couple of Peter Collingwood's books. More - many more - titles to come.

But I have an eBay account, a Paypal account, and I sold my brother's library on eBay last summer so I'm familiar with the process. And the guild needs the revenue.

I also have 12 Ars Textrina I'm going to sell once the guild books are sold.

I've fallen way behind on transcribing WeaveCast - something I totally enjoy doing when I'm not feeling pressured by other stuff. Hopefully I will learn enough about the Ashford and Ashland Bay products quickly - and that my energy will come back fully - so that I'm not feeling quite so overwhelmed with all the admin stuff.

Currently reading The Story Teller by Margaret Coel


Today's blog by The Yarn Harlot announced that the fund-raising for Doctors Without Borders has officially surpassed one MILLION dollars! Thank you to all who donated. And yes, I do still have towels for anyone else who is thinking about making a donation...........

Maybe we can see it go to 1.5? 2?

Cheers y'all!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dealing With Distraction part II

In my last post yesterday I mentioned that my concentration is impaired right now with lots of distractions. Thought I would share how I deal with threading a complex pattern.

This is the draft for the last warp on the AVL.

My eyes - not being 20-ish any longer - have problems seeing a tiny draft so I print out at about 8 to the inch. In this case the draft was such that it was easier to print out the whole thing rather than trying to mark repeats. Beginning in the upper right hand corner of page 1 (on the far right) through the middle page and then to the last page on the left - this is the complete draft.

Here is a close up of page 1 with some of my chicken scratches as I messed about getting the draft set up the way I wanted it. You'll notice the 6 repeats of point twill at the selvedge, then a point over 12 shafts, then 24 repeats of the point on the last four shafts to separate the central field from the 'background'.

As I do each group - sometimes 4, sometimes 6, sometimes - well - whatever is appropriate - I mark off that I've done that group. If I'm repeating a motif several times I'll start with a pencil mark, then use a coloured pencil for the second repeat, then a different coloured pencil for a third repeat. And so on.

And no, I didn't have any threading errors on this warp, just one sleying error.

But I am a very visual type of person who relates to seeing patterns in things (hence the penchant for doing jigsaw puzzles as a relaxing passtime). Each person has to figure out what method will work best for them and how they process information.

And here is the loom as I begin threading the next warp on the AVL. Yes I rip the loom apart each time. I have no qualms about messing about with it this way. No, I don't have a permanent bench. I ripped that out after about a year and just use a tall stool to sit on for weaving. That makes it easy to take the sandpaper beam out and store it in the corner while I thread.

I have a small stool I sit on to thread. It's just out of the frame. I 'drape' myself over the beater. I'm tall enough that I can sit quite comfortably this way, but someone much shorter might not find this posture comfortable.

You can see my draft, taped to the side of the loom. I've just finished threading the first two points that will be the selvedge and I've gathered up all the groups, individually slip knotted, into one large slip knot. I do this for motif repeats so I can keep track of how many I've threaded. In this case the central motif will consist of 6 repeats.

If I've done the math correctly I should have about 14 ends left over.

But that is a mighty big 'if'. :}

Currently reading Dream Stalker by Margaret Coel (on recommendation of James D. Doss)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dealing with Distractions

Distractions are not good when it comes time to do things like thread a loom, even if it is a simple pattern. It only takes your mind to go wandering elsewhere while your body continues on automatic, and you have an 'oopsie'. :(

Fortunately I'm weaving towels and cut lines come along at regular intervals, so after I spotted the glaring error in threading I just kept on weaving until I finished the towel I was on (the second, naturally) and wove a longer than usual cut line.

Then I got my trusty embroidery scissors with the really sharp points, dug the point into the cloth at the beginning of the cut line aaaaaand......snip!

The four errant threads were pulled out of the cloth, threaded correctly, re-sleyed and then pinned to the cloth.

Then I wove a few more picks to secure the ends into the fabric and kept going.

Like I said earlier, it's a good thing I've got a lot of friends who like 'seconds' because it doesn't look like the distractions are going to end any time soon. :(

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Banding Together To Do Good

One of the blogs I read is The Yarn Harlot. Not that I'm exactly a knitter, although I can knit and purl and follow a simple pattern. :)

I follow her because I love her writing, her take on life and her sense of humour.

Recently she raised the call to arms - er needles - to knitters, sending out a request for knitters to band together to do some good.

With the recent catastrophe in Haiti, aid assistance has been strained to help the people most in need. Stephanie suggested several charities, but one in particular is a favourite of mine - Doctors Without Borders.

They do incredible work all round the world.

Stephanie's appeal has resulted in over $800,000.00 being pledged - so far - and she isn't finished counting yet. Her current goal is to raise $1 million for MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

To read The Yarn Harlot blog:

To donate to MSF: (for Canadians) or (for US)

She suggests a donation to go where the need is greatest so that they can allocate funds appropriately.

I would like to assist Stephanie and her amazing community of knitters to reach their goal. If you make a donation of a minimum of $50, email me at laura AT laurafry DOT com and let me know that you have done so, including your mailing address and you will receive a handwoven tea towel. You can even let me know your favourite colour and if I have any in stock I will try to accomodate.

Let Stephanie know you have donated so that she can add your contribution to her total by making a comment on her blog.

You can also help MSF by participating in Syne Mitchell's birthday party Feb. 21 by sending her 40 yards of yarn which she will incorporate into a blanket warp. More info at

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Time Becomes More Precious...

...the less of it you have. (song lyric sung by Bonnie Raitt)

Plan C

In my heart I still think I'm 39 (who is that old woman in the mirror and why is she stalking me?) but two years ago I was forcefully reminded that life is fragile and that we - none of us - knows how much of it we have to utilize.

I've never been one to fight with my loom or materials, so when I finished towel #6 I decided that I'd had enough of coaxing both the warp and the weft and it was time for Plan C.

Last night I changed the tie up and treadling once again, this morning changed out the pick wheel for one that gave fewer picks per inch and am now quite happily weaving the towels this way. Still coaxing the pesky linen, but that I can manage without getting too disgruntled. :}

It is a good thing, I think, to remember that a threaded warp is simply a set of possibilities, and if something isn't working the way I want I can change something about what I'm doing that will work better. Sometimes Plan C or D is actually a much nicer result than my original plan!

And sometimes while Plan A or B is nice, it simply isn't worth the time and effort to get there. I have been known to throw out several pounds of warp yarn because it was just not worth the effort to continue to use it. I have a bin where I collect my thrums, pass them along to a surface designer who takes what she wants, and then sends both of our studio waste to the Salvation Army. The local branch has a textile recycling program.

I am no longer a 'young immortal'. I have a limited amount of time in this place. I don't want to spend it struggling when I can achieve nice results by having a conversation with my loom and/or materials and agreeing that a different path will make both of us much, much happier.

Currently reading Dead Soul by James D. Doss (catching up on earlier novels in the series that the local library doesn't have by requesting them on ILL)

Friday, January 15, 2010

All Things Being Equal...

I'm really kind of liking this but......

2/20 merc. cotton is generally pretty solid as a warp. Sure I double the outside four ends in the heddles (but not the reed) just to give the selvedges a little more spine, but usually I have very little trouble with broken threads.

The first four towels wove up nicely but I wasn't really loving the results. Soooo - I changed the tie up. Now I only changed the tie up in the first 12 shafts. The last four shafts remained the same as the first four towels.

So why, then, did I start having broken threads? Not a lot of them, not frequently, and not on the outside edge, but the 3rd or 4th dent in???? And in the area that had not been changed? So what had changed? What was causing the breaks?

Now I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm not a patient person and I don't like fighting with my equipment - or my materials!

But one or other of the threads would break just often enough that it was making weaving these towels, which I really quite like, not fun.

After towel #4 I thought what the heck, and instead of throwing 2 picks for a cutting line I threw 3 picks which changed which direction the shuttle was entering the cloth.

And started weaving again. Passed the 12" mark, then the 18" with no breaks. By the time I got to 24 I was holding my breath! Would I make it through one whole towel with no breaks?


Can the fix possibly be so simple as merely changing which shed the shuttle begins entering the cloth?

Who knows. All I know is I finally got a towel without flaws. And I'm liking this design enough that I'm willing to risk another one to see if I can get two 'perfect' towels. And if I can, I'll go for 3 and then....4...

Still don't know why the breaks, though!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Making Changes

Decided I wasn't loving the twill blocks as much as I thought I would, so changed the tie up to a more 'traditional' look. In the process I reversed the twill line so it now begins with the snowflake motif on the outside and the snowballs in the centre. oops. Oh well.

The tie up is a 1/3/2/2/3/1 twill for the motif and 1/3 twill for the background. Of course the other side has a blue background, not the linen.

Sharon S mentioned in a comment that she had a problem warp on the loom. Threads were breaking and she suspected the yarn was too tender, making weaving not fun.

There are a number of remedies that you can try in this instance. A warp dressing or sizing will add strength to a tender yarn. I've even used a really cheap hairspray that I had on hand and that helped, too.

There are recipies for warp dressings or sizings in Magic in the Water - flax for cellulose fibres, gelatin for protein. I suspect one could use either for both fibres.

Another option is a warp dressing sold by Leclerc called Clerco. But generally gelatin or flax seed can be readily purchased at the grocery store and fairly quickly made up. Some people also make warp dressings from rice or potato starch. I've not tried either of those.

Once the warp is on the loom you can paint it on, although the sizing might drip onto the loom. If you are really liking your warp and it needs something to strengthen it, you might go ahead and use it and wash the loom off later.

I found the hairspray worked fairly well and since it was in a pump spray bottle I could direct it where it needed to go fairly easily. It also dried more quickly than a water based solution so I could get back to weaving faster. :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blue Mood

Got the blue warp weaving this evening. One sleying error, spotted after completing towel #1. It was one of those threads that simply did not weave into the cloth and rode along behind, invisible until I looked at the back of the cloth.

Oh well - it will go to a good home as I have several friends who will adopt my 'orphans'.

On the last 2/20 merc. cotton warp I used 40 epi and could not beat the weft in to square so this time the set got changed to 36. I'm having to coax it a bit, but the twill lines are about 45 degrees and the pattern isn't at all elongated so I think it will be okay. Depends how much the cotton contracts compared to the linen during wet finishing.

The design seems particularly appropriate - a scattering of snowflakes and snowballs - even though we are having unseasonably warm weather. The snow is melting away as though it's March not January and Sunday I slipped and fell on the ice.

Since I'm blessed with 'big' bones I just have a few scrapes and bruises - nothing broken. Don't know what I'd do if I broke an arm! Guess I'd have to put a wide warp on and use the fly shuttle.

Currently reading Mean Streets - a collection of four novellas including Jim Butcher (one of my favs). The other three are new to me.

Monday, January 11, 2010



Weavolution is a net working site for weavers that just passed it's 6 month birthday. The developers have been working hard to get the site functional and it has quite a few resources of value to weavers.

One of the things that have been taking place are Weave-Alongs or WAL for short. The latest is based on an article published in WeaveZine ( )

Rosepath is an extended point twill that can be woven overshot style to make small motifs such as flowers, or if you squint really hard, you might be able to make out the blue butterflies hovering above the flower garden in the top towel. :)

If you haven't checked Weavolution out lately, you might find something of interest. Bonnie Datta has been posting about Norway Selvedges - a technique of particular interest for weft faced rug weavers - in the public Weaving forum under the topic Selvedges.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Perfect Towel

It's always heartening when I hear of weavers continuing to explore after I've taught a workshop:

In 2009 the Central Ohio Weavers Guild hosted a workshop with Laura Fry, author of Magic in the Water. Laura presented our guild with what she refers to as the forumula for the Perfect Towel using specific warp, weft, sett and dimensions.

Following the workshop a study group was created to make some towels using Laura's formula. From this study group a book containing nine samples, drafts and color photos was created. The drafts are 3 to 8 harness. Each sample is at least 4" x 4" and finished using Laura's methods as described in Magic in the Water and sewn into the book so it can be viewed and handled to really appreciate the work.

Additionally a CD containing .PDF docutments containing drawdown and draft as well as .WIF files for those having weaving software. We are selling these as a guild fundraiser for equipment and future guild projects.

You may view a picture of the book, a page layout with draft and sample at If you are interested in purchasing the Book with Samples ($26), Book with Samples and CD ($31), or a CD ($16) please contact me at Swakins@.... These prices include Priority Shipping. I will accept PayPal, MO or personal check. If you would like international shipping please contact me for rates.

I'm supposed to teach in Columbus again in May. Hope they save a copy for me to see. :) Not sure if the links in this copy/paste will work, but do look at the photos. It looks like a nice addition to a weaver's library.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Plan B1 or C1 or Maybe D

The colour is a little on the yellow side in this picture - not sure why. Anyway, I wasn't completely thrilled with Plan B - it was a tad busy. It was okay enough that I wove 6 towels, but after I simplified the tie up for Plan C, I was much happier with the more dramatic effect of the bolder lines.

So I carried on with the same tie up and treadling as Plan C but used the doubled 24's for weft. I'll go ahead and finish off the rest of the warp in this design.

And here is a close up of the selvedges. No, the weft thread is not catching the warps in anything close to a plain weave structure. I wouldn't actually want it to because plain weave takes up at a much different rate than twill. Many new weavers have found to their consternation that when they get an 8 shaft loom, weave a 4 shaft twill textile and thread a plain weave selvedge thinking that they have solved their selvedge issues, that they have no end of trouble with the difference in take up.

If someone wants to thread a special selvedge, it's best to choose a selvedge structure that will more closely approximate the take up of the main body of the textile.

For this towel warp, the main pattern was threaded on 12 shafts, and then 16 selvedge threads were threaded on the other four shafts. But they are being woven in the same twill tie up as the main body of the fabric. I also used the same four shafts to isolate the pattern in the centre of the cloth. If you look at the over view photo you can see where that happens quite clearly.

As mentioned previously, I want to be consistent. The selvedge should be straight, or if it isn't, it should curve consistently. (See the article in WeaveZine - Saucy Scallops - and check the archive)

It should have structural integrity. It is the boundary of the cloth you are weaving. If the cloth is going to be used intact i.e. with the selvedge as part of it, then the selvedge needs to keep the threads in their place.

But the selvedges are only one part of the textile. The entire cloth must have integrity. The entire cloth must perform its function, and hopefully do that with beauty and grace.

So I try not to get too focused on just one aspect of my fabric but see it as a whole.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


The end of Plan B and the beginning of Plan C

Larger view of Plan C - weft is a varigated cotton slub

I've said it before, and I'll no doubt say it again - one of my goals in weaving is to create the maximum amount of output for the least amount of input. Or Minimum Input/Maximum Output. MI/MO for short.

In the past, when people have asked me about floating selvedges, I rather flippantly replied "Don't use them - they slow me down."

Many people seem to get quite perplexed at this comment, asserting that using floating selvedges doesn't slow them down.

Well, that's probably because most people don't weave nearly as fast as I do. :} Not that they can't, they just probably have never been shown how to weave ergnomically and efficiently.

As I travel around the continent, I find so many people who just don't know that there is an efficient/ergonomic way to hold and throw the shuttle. Many are happy to have me demo and try it the way I do, but others are quite happy with what they are doing and continue on the way they've always done it.

As for floating selvedges, they are a tool - or perhaps I should say a technique - which is appropriate in certain circumstances.

Read Bonnie Datta's post #17 for an extremely informative post on how to do a floating selvedge for a weft faced rug.

So when I say I never use a floating selvedge because they slow me down, what I am really saying is that I don't weave fabric that requires one. Because I don't want to weave slowly when I can weave quickly.

Therefore, when I'm choosing a twill I never weave huge goose eye twills. The outside threads will fall out of the fabric if you do an extended reverse twill. So, I don't. If I want to do something like a goose eye, I will thread a herringbone twill and weave it the same way - skipping a shaft/treadle when I change direction so that no threads fall out of the cloth.

To use a floating selvedge on a plain weave or even a straight twill is unnecessary. But there are those who tell me that they can't weave without one. If that's the case, they will be hard pressed to build up speed if they want to because no matter what anyone says, it still takes a moment to push the floating selvedge down so that the shuttle can pass over it, interupting the weaving rhythm and therefore reducing speed. And those moments add up.

If the weaver is trying to weave 60" in width, it will slow them down even further. And forget using a floating selvedge on a jack loom with fly shuttle. The fly shuttle doesn't know the fs is there and it will simply knock it aside, ignoring it completely.

So no, I don't ever envision myself using a floating selvedge. If I can't be perfect, I will be as consistent as I can be. I've found that being consistent, holding the shuttle as I've demo'd in other posts, will bring about good selvedges much faster than messing about with a floating selvedge.

Now stepping off my soap box..........

p.s. you can click on the second picture to check out my selvedges

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dimensional Loss

Someone emailed me remarking on the tiny amount of draw in on the linen towels. Well, that's the nature of working with linen - less dimensional loss than with other yarns.

Linen is very stiff. It doesn't want to bend much and so it holds the threads out wider than, for example, cotton will.

Two towels woven on the same warp, one in linen (foreground), one in cotton (background) will show significant differences in the amount of draw in that results.

On this warp, 23 inches wide in the reed (nearly), the difference in width between the linen and cotton weft is 1.5 inches.

Even in the wet finishing, dimensional loss is much less than cotton would yield.

Finished towel in the background, loom state (unfinished) towel in the foreground.

In this case, the difference between unfinished and finished width measurements amount to just .5 inch.

Linen is a 'special needs' yarn. It needs special handling.

Some would call it a 'bad' yarn, but unless the yarn is tender from over dyeing or too long in the sun, there really is no such thing as a 'bad' yarn. There is only yarn and its intended use. It's when we try to use a yarn for something that it was never intended to be used for that we run afoul of the yarn's nature.

Or perhaps we don't realize that the inherent character of the yarn requires special handling, or what those special techniques might be.

And so I call this extremely fine, extremely wire-y yarn pesky because it does require special handling. Handling that slows me down and makes the process of weaving with it less of a joy. :) For me.

But then, knowing what a wonderful fabric will result from dancing with a partner that has a mind of its own, I dance the dance and let it lead me where it will. And the finished towels feel wonderful. Truly.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Got started weaving this morning with a couple of oopsies. Approximately 900 ends in a fairly complex threading pattern and I had one sleying error and one threading error. The threading should have been 7,8,7 and it was actually 8,9,8. So I cut the errant threads out, tied repair heddles where needed (two on shaft 7 - I could use one of the 8's that were emptied) re-threaded and pinned to the fabric.

And started over. :)

I'm weaving the fabric 'upside down' or 'back-side up' in order to lift the fewest shafts. I got into the habit of doing this when I was treadling manually (pedally?) and after getting the air assist for the treadle just kept on using this approach. I figured what was better for my knee would be better for the piston. :) Maybe it doesn't care, but........

You can just see the start of the pattern on the front as it rolls down toward the cloth beam. The difference in colour is the shadow from the top of the cloth. Hopefully the close up (click on the image) will show it nicely.

For weft I'm using two of the 24 nm strands doubled. Now why, you may ask, would I use two ends doubled instead of some of the perfectly good singles 12 nm? Well, the fact is that I have about twice as much of the 24 nm as I do the 12, and since one strand of 12 plus one strand of 24 seems to be the perfect weft on the 2/16 cotton warp, I decided to use up the 24's on the 2/20 merc. cotton warp.

It's got to be used up one way or another, right?

Currently reading Sisters of Heaven by Patti Gully - the role of three Chinese aviatrix's during WWII

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Got an email yesterday saying Coby was driving to PG today - several days sooner than expected given the weather we've been having all over the place. So I was caught a bit flat footed, thinking I had a couple more days to mosey along finishing the green tea towel warp and dressing the loom with the next one.

So, anaemia be d*mned, I steamed through the green tea towel warp, wound the colours I'd pulled for the next warp and just now finished beaming it. Taking a break before I start threading.

Occasionally I will do a time study, especially if I'm trying a new-to-me technique. So today I paid attention to how long it took to rough sley the reed (15 minutes) and beam the warp. From the time I inserted the reed into the beater until the time I cut off the loom waste was 29 minutes.

The warp is 2/16 cotton at 32 epi approx. 22.5 inches wide, and 11 meters long.

The threading is pretty simple - I'm sticking with the simple herringbone twill of the last two warps, and it should not take more than a little over an hour to thread. I'm expecting to get it threaded before Doug gets home from work at 6:15 or so, have a quick dinner (I love leftovers!) sley and tie on - hopefully before Coby arrives. She was thinking 12 hours to drive, but since the roads are in winter condition - it may take longer. Much more important that she get here in one piece. I don't mind staying up later if she decides to push through tonight. We're pretty much night owls, anyway. :}

But for now - it's back to the loom.

Friday, January 1, 2010

In With The New....

green/purple/dk blue towels after wet finishing - turned out way better than expected! They feel wonderful. Well worth dealing with pesky linen. :^) soon to be listed at along with other new designs...

The turn of the year has traditionally been devoted to people looking at the year just gone and thinking about what the future holds.

For us, health issues have taken centre stage for the past two years, both mine and Doug's. I am happy to report that in this area things are much improved from 24 months ago. But not, unfortunately, completely resolved.

I found out on Christmas Eve the reason for my lethargy and feeling as though things weren't quite right. They weren't. I had been running a low grade infection for at least 6 months - with none of the usual symptoms that would have alerted me to the fact that I was truly not well. (This appears to be a recurring theme re: my health - I'm sick but not exhibiting the usual symptoms so either I don't know I'm sick, or health professionals think I'm a hypochrondriac. I'm so blessed to now have a doctor who listens to me when I say that things aren't right.)

On top of that, I'm anaemic, which sort of explains the lack of energy to do much - not even the things I want to do. In a way it's a relief to find out that there really is a reason for no energy - it's not just that I'm lazy after all. :}

The good news is that after a week of anti-biotics the infection appears to have been conquered, and I'm hoping the iron tablets will kick in soon because there is sooooo much to be done in the next months.

In spite of not feeling up to snuff for a variety of reasons I did get quite a lot accomplished. A busy teaching schedule for the first 6 months of 2009 saw me literally cross the continent, visiting several states I'd not been to before, and meeting lots of wonderful weavers. If any of them are reading this - please know that I remember my visit to your town fondly. I'm booked to return to one of them in May and am really looking forward to seeing the weavers of Columbus, OH again. After Columbus I'll head to Missouri to the Ozark School of Crafts in Joplin. Check the Schedule page on my website for contact info and details. Of course it all depends on getting sufficient registration....

Summer saw the arrival of four students, one at a time, to stay and work on their weaving technique and other issues of importance to them. The fall saw me back on the road, but driving this time, not flying. Lots of miles in Sept/Oct/Nov.

Earlier this year I mentioned that I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I face the big 6-0 this year. If there is something I want to do, or need to do, I'd better do it. Life is uncertain - live your life now, don't put it on hold for some possible day in the future. As we were reminded all too well, that hazy day in the future may simply not be in the cards.

Doug and I have been self-employed for much of our lives, or in work situations that don't provide much in the way of retirement income. So after talking it over we decided that we are still young and healthy enough to face doing more shows. But this time we will focus on fibre festival type shows, not necessarily craft fairs. Why? Mostly the weather.

Most craft fairs are in the weeks leading up to Christmas. For us that means facing winter travel, with all that that entails. Most fibre festivals are in the spring/summer/fall - weather isn't quite so harsh.

It was with this thought in mind that we decided to take on the Ashford and Ashland Bay dealership. The Ashford has come through and that info went live today on my website. I should hear from Ashland Bay shortly.

Our first fibre festival this year is March 26/27 in Abbotsford, BC. After that we plan on being at the HWSDA conference in Edmonton, AB. Still waiting to hear from conference organizers but that info should also come shortly.

I've never been to Complex Weavers, so decided that this year was going to be the year. I got in with all the seminars I chose. Now I'm trying to decide if I hire a seamstress to sew up the fabric that won 2nd place at the Carnegie Yardage exhibit at the Vancouver Convergence in 2002. I'm trying to lose weight, and hesitate to spend money on a garment that may not fit. :} OTOH, I've got a closet full of handwoven clothing that no longer fits, so....

While at Convergence, I'll be helping Teresa Ruch in her booth along with another of her friends. I hope to have lots of time to see as many exhibits as possible - and shop! Since I've done such a good job of using up my stash I'm looking for inspiration and new yarns. ;)

In spite of not wanting to do more craft fairs, it became clear to me that I really need to do one big show in a major metropolitan area. So we will be applying for One of a Kind in Vancouver next Dec. We did OOAK in Toronto in 2006, but with all the security and hassles involved with flying, decided it just wasn't worth it. We can drive to Vancouver, so it's much more attractive in that regard. In spite of 500 miles in winter weather. :(

And you will hear it here first - I'm in discussions with someone about publishing a monograph as an e-book. I expect to begin working on the text for that when my student - arriving sometime next week given winter driving conditions - leaves. Stay tuned for more on that. (And now that I've announced it publicly - I will HAVE to do it!)

As for resolutions, I don't make them. Much too depressing if I can't manage to stick to them. So instead I have intentions. That way if something happens that I need to change direction or focus, it's not such a big deal. :}

My intentions for 2010 are to continue weaving and taking care of my health. Use up as much of my stash as possible. Write the monograph. Lose the 20 pounds I gained in the past year. :( And 20 more if I possibly can. Not get too stressed out when Doug starts tearing the floors up and re-doing them. (Bathroom - the guilty party that started the ball rolling - hall, kitchen, dining room and living room are all slated for new flooring - it's going to be a nightmare!)

Once and for all, Clutter Mountain will have to be dealt with in order to do the floors. Finally!

So whether you do resolutions or intentions, or just go with the flow - my very best wishes for you all to have a very Happy New Year!