Saturday, July 21, 2012


Variegated warp with natural beige soy protein as weft - the photo isn't true to life in terms of colour - the yellow is actually a pale orange, the red a scarlet

Often I will hear (or see written in chat groups) a new weaver confidently state that they are going to start with some easy weaving - plain weave.

While plain weave is simple in terms of weave structure, it is not so easy in terms of technical expertise required in order to weave it well.

Linda Heinrich (Magic of Linen) tells the story of attempting her plain weave sample for the Guild of Canadian Weavers tests.  Feeling that she would need to weave more than one or two samples to get it right,  she put a 7 yard warp onto her loom and wove it off.  And then put a second 7 yard warp on the loom and wove it off.  And then put a third 7 yard warp on the loom and only at the very end of that warp did she produce samples she felt were good enough to submit for the testing.

My father always warned my brother and I to beware of someone who made something they were doing look easy.  He never explained why but we understood what he was saying.

Weaving plain weave well is not easy.  The warp has be be beamed with 'perfect' tension, bobbins have to be wound properly so that they won't catch in the shuttle, every time the warp is advanced (unless you have live weight tensioning) you have to recalculate your beat because the tension never gets applied in precisely the same amount with each advance.  The weaver has to feel the difference and adjust for it.

After 35+ years of weaving I still can't get a perfect plain weave.  I'd say I come to within 95% or so.  Out of the 5% that isn't 'perfect', probably 2.5 to 3% will be taken care of in the wet finishing.  The rest?  Most people would have to look fairly hard to see the 'imperfection'.  The flaws in my cloth rarely get better if I try to get rid of them, in fact they start to become yet more obvious as I work and work and eventually overwork the materials.  So I've learned to let go and let be.

I recently got a very amusing email from someone who I will not name because I haven't asked permission to use the email (but I'm fairly confident I'd get permission if I asked!)  :)

Long ago, I happened across a YouTube video of you beaming a warp at a ridiculous pace with no visible effort.  I knew nothing about you at the time, it's worth noting.  I concluded that your beam must have ended up with all sorts of snarls and tension issues, as no one could possibly beam a warp with so little fuss.  No plucking and stroking?  Yeah right!  Totally fiction.

As I wound the beam last night though, it occurred to me that I hadn't plucked and stroked at all, and the entire warp (a mere 4 yards, but still!) beamed on perfectly in well under 10 minutes.  I'm on my way to being eerily good at warping the loom, thanks to you!  And this is only after 4 warps using this method... can't wait to see how it turns out after your prescribed 7!"

Dressing the loom should not be painful, a battle royale.  I share what I do because while it may look deceptively easy, it can be learned.  But perfection?  Very rare.  Part of the learning process is knowing when to let it go and let it be.

And if you look very closely at the above photos you can see tiny lines where I advanced the warp and didn't get the beat quite 'perfect'.  I'm pretty sure they will mostly disappear during wet finishing.  And if not?  Well, I did the best I could and it was time to move on.

PS - to minimize the visible lines in your cloth from inconsistent beating, use a weft the same value as the warp.  You can see from the photo that I'm using a weft quite a bit lighter in value.  The same would hold true for a weft much darker in value.  You know how I know....


Anonymous said...

The simplest things are the most transparent. I find Mozart to be the most difficult to play well, even though not the most technically challenging. Everything shows! The slightest intonation, rhythm, or other flub is immediately apparent. It's much easier to hide issues in complexity.

Laura Fry said...

Very true! :D