For an introduction to this ongoing series, click here.For the first part of this adventure, click here.So, I wanted to weave a patterned scarf on my rigid heddle loom.Weaving does not begin with weaving. Weaving begins with warping. You cannot weave until your loom is dressed in its full and correct complement of warp threads.Warping has a grim reputation, even among some dedicated weavers. It is painstaking, slow, sometimes back-breaking work. There are many steps. If you fail to do any of them correctly, your fabric will not come out as intended. Putting on the warp for a substantial length of cloth may take anywhere from several hours to several days.*I suspect warping to be the reason for nine-tenths of the “Loom for Sale, Never Used” ads on Craigslist.This gave me pause as I stood looking at the naked loom. Should I chicken out and just knit something? No. I might wind up strangled in my own yarn, but I wasn’t going to give in without a fight.Destination: Windowpane ScarfMy guide and inspiration was Jane Patrick (creative director for Schacht Spindle Company, which makes the Cricket) via her fantastic The Weaver’s Idea Book: Creative Cloth on a Rigid Heddle Loom (Interweave Press, 2010).On page 121 are a pair of “Windowpane Effect” fabrics that caught my eye. One of these, Jane notes, “would be quite effective for a jacket pattern. Think Chanel.”I’m a red-blooded American male. You don’t have to tell me twice to think Chanel.The fabric as Jane designed it requires three colors, and I had to hand three emphatically gorgeous colors of Hikoo Rylie–Periwinkle, Freesia, and Guava.Seemed like a good bet. Two cool colors for a muted background, with a closely-related warm color, Guava, for the eye-catching windowpane.Moreover, I like scarves that drape. Rylie is made from three fibers–baby alpaca, silk, and linen–that are famous for drape. The yarn is soft, strong, and lustrous into the bargain. Perfect.Jane Patrick provides a crystal-clear warp threading color chart for the fabric. I set out to follow it to the letter. That seemed like plan enough for me.Getting ExcitedI wrote above that weaving doesn’t begin with weaving, it begins with warping. However, some would say that weaving truly begins with a worksheet full of careful calculations. Those people are right, and I need to learn from them.This was not my first go at a rigid heddle scarf. I’d made three, but all were extremely simple and wholly improvisational. When warping, I’d had no clear target. I put threads on willy-nilly and started weaving.In following Jane’s recipe, I intended no alterations aside from a few extra strands of Guava at each selvedge. These would, I assumed, provide a handsome and stable border of plain weave to set off the windowpane.Notice that word: assumed.Jane says a great many wise things in her book. What she says most is, “Sample!”. Weaving samples in the weaver’s equivalent of a knitter’s swatching, and it’s every bit as vital.Did I sample? I did not. I was excited, you see.I was so excited that I did not sit down and use readily available, simple, time-tested weaver’s calculations to figure out how long my warp ought to be, and how much of each weft color I would require.I did not then warp a small amount according to the plan, and upon it weave a sample and see if I liked the design and the fabric. Because I was excited.You know how in this column I went on and on about how much I love to swatch and how important swatching is? Yeah, well…I didn’t swatch.**Getting WarpedOne of the benefits of a rigid heddle loom is that it’s easy to warp.You can, if you like, warp it much as you would warp a multi-harness loom. This usually involves a warping board, carefully placed warp ties, warping sticks, and other baggage that allows you to keep your many threads in order. The process pretty much forces you to think ahead. If you don’t, you aren’t going to get far.The rigid heddle allows for a clever, simple method called “direct warping.” Direct warping is so within the grasp of even the newest weaver that Schacht includes thorough, brief instructions with the loom itself. Jane also illustrates the steps in The Weaver’s Idea Book.With this technique, you can put on a simple warp in forty minutes or less. No joke.And because it is so simple, direct warping doesn’t absolutely require the planning and forethought that go into dressing a multi-harness loom. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t still have a carefully considered plan; but you don’t have to. And I didn’t.***I’m not going to take you through every step of direct warping here, as it’s so well detailed elsewhere. I’ll just point out that the very ease and speed, combined with my eager nature, led me to do something with my warp that I should not have done: I decided to just wing it.Here are a couple of highlights.Direct warping doesn’t need a separate warping board or similar apparatus to measure the length of your threads. That’s great news if, like me, you live in a small space. In direct warping, it’s the distance between the loom itself and a single peg, attached to some surface in the vicinity, that determines how long your warp will be.As I hadn’t considered properly how long to make my threads, I guessed.**** I moved the little table containing the peg further and further away from the big table containing the loom until the distance between seemed to be about right. About right for what? For a long scarf. How long a scarf? What an excellent question!If you are striping your warp with narrow stripes, as I was, direct warping will in theory allow you to carry the different yarns along, rather than cutting and re-joining them for each stripe. However, if your yarn tends to stick to itself when strands rub against one another, this happens:I realized pretty quickly that with Rylie, I’d do better to cut and tie off each stripe. You can see in this shot of the back apron rod, where I made the change. A small detail, but giving up the short cut quadrupled my speed and eliminated my frustration.Mind you, this is not a flaw in the yarn. It’s simply the nature of it. In all the arts, there is a universal truth: you either acknowledge the nature of your materials and adjust your technique accordingly; or you can forge ahead in denial, and suffer.So I pressed on, slot by slot. When the threading was complete, I found myself deeply in love with the Rapunzel ponytail that I’d created. It seemed like a lot of yarn. An awful lot of yarn.***** But it was pretty.Two hours later, after tying on to the front rod, your threads are at last in their proper order. The colors of the Rylie, lined up next to one another, transformed from merely glowing to absolutely radiant.Things began to look truly promising.
I cannot tell you how many times I said to anyone who would listen that knitting was quite enough. I had no need or desire, I said, to learn to spin. Then I made friends with an accomplished spinner. Now I spin.
Then I said to anyone who would listen that knitting and spinning were plenty for one man, thank you, and I had no intention of learning to weave. Then I made friends with a master weaver. Want to guess what happened?
Our next adventure is weaving.
Before we jump in, two things.
Thing One: Don’t stop reading this because you don’t have space for a loom. Neither do I. We’ll address that right off the bat.
Thing Two: I have only the barest idea what I am doing here. I weave, I have woven, I will weave. What I am not yet able to say with a straight face is I am a weaver. I’m a fledgling, fumbling along mostly on my own with help from books and the aforementioned master weaver, who lives several hundred miles away.
My mistakes (they are legion) will be on full display. Take everything I write for what it is–the hopeful fumbling of an enamored amateur. But also keep in mind that if I can do this, so can you.
These Fridays are supposed to be about setting out for new horizons–so off we go.
The Question of the Loom
I avoided weaving for years largely because I didn’t think I could accommodate the furniture. I live in a city apartment. It’s big enough for most practical purposes, but–a loom? Are you kidding me? You’ve seen looms, right? I had seen looms, in those gorgeous, grim paintings by Van Gogh.
That guy is sitting inside the loom. By my calculations, it has roughly the same footprint as a Toyota Camry.
I knew there were smaller looms, but assumed (with an ignorance of which I am now ashamed) that you couldn’t do anything interesting on them. Simple weaving? Bah. I’d been a Boy Scout, I’d gone to camp, I’d made potholders. I was not interested in doing that again.
Then, as sometimes happens, a rigid heddle loom–a Schacht Cricket–arrived in the mail.
Meet the Loom
This is a completely naked Schacht Cricket. It’s the big one, with fifteen inches of weaving width. There’s a ten-inch size, too. Both are smaller than a Toyota Camry.
It doesn’t look like much, does it? What kind of weaving can you do on that?
A full-length introduction to rigid heddle weaving is beyond the scope of this column–and beyond the scope of my expertise. But for those who are not weavers (yet), here’s what you need to know to follow along.
The picket fence thing that’s sitting in the loom frame
is called the reed, and the little slats inside it are called heddles. Notice that you have slots between the heddles, and that each of the heddles has a little hole in the center. That’s going to be very important.
A rigid heddle loom like the Cricket has three notches that allow you to park the reed in three different places: up, down, and neutral.
How the Loom Works
Before we can weave, we have to put something on the loom to weave into. That something is an organized array of strings called the warp.
I’ll talk about the process of putting on the warp (more elegantly referred to as “dressing the loom”) later on. For now, I want to show you what happens with the warp once it’s in place.
Notice (you’ll have to look closely) that in this little sample warp, each of the holes in the reed has a strand of red running through it, and each of the slots has a strand of blue running through it.
That’s a shot of the warp with the reed in the “neutral” position. All the threads are roughly level with one another. That poses a question. If the warp is the thing we weave into, how exactly do we do that? What path does our weaving yarn–which is called the weft–take through the warp?
To find our path, we move the reed into the “up” position and–voilà–all the red threads move up, creating a neat little tunnel (called the shed) for our weft yarn to pass through.
After one pass of the weft through this shed (that’s called a pick), we move the reed to the “down” position, and look what happens.
The threads have changed places. The blue threads are up, the red are down. The change in the position of the reed has changed the shed. We send our weft through this shed.
Then we go back to the up shed. Then the down shed. Then the up shed. Then the down shed. On and on, until our fabric is complete.
If we do that and only that, we make plain weave–the most basic weave. It’s so basic, it’s what I’d used to make pot holders as a Boy Scout.
But the rigid heddle has another trick up its sleeve–the pick up stick.
All by itself, the pick up stick–which looks like an overly ambitious tongue depressor–expands the possibilities of the rigid heddle loom almost infinitely. Here is how it is most often used.
After putting the reed into the down position, you take the pick up stick and you pick up (get it?) certain threads in the top of the shed according to the pattern you wish to weave. In this photograph I’ve done a very simple pick up: one up, one down.
Now watch what happens. If I put the reed in neutral and stand the pick up stick on edge, I get a third shed with a different combination of threads raised and lowered. This is usually called the “pattern stick shed.”
That’s undeniably groovy, but there’s even more.
If we put the reed in the up position and slide the stick forward (keeping it flat) we can get a fourth shed (usually called the “up and stick shed”).
Four sheds–up, down, pattern stick, up and stick–all on one tiny loom with one stick. And that, friends, is where rigid heddle weaving and nice-potholders-for-mommy begin to part company. Four sheds means we need not limit ourselves to plain weave.
All that’s needed is a plan, a delicious yarn, and a warp.
The plan is ready.
The yarn is ready.
The warp–that’ll take some time.
The next part of this adventure will appear in two weeks. (No, it won’t take two weeks to warp the loom. But this installment is at over a thousand words already, and I think you deserve a break.)
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
You know what I did first, don’t you? You know you do, you just don’t want to hear me say it.
Confession time: I love swatching.
If that makes you bristle, let me reassure you that I understand. I wasn’t always like this. I used to hate swatching. Swatching was vile. Swatching was the pile of green beans my mother used to force-feed me before I was allowed to have a cookie. I hated green beans.*
Why did I change? Experience. People say swatches lie, and swatches do. But the most deceitful swatch still tells you more that no swatch at all.
Swatching isn’t just about checking your gauge to make sure you end up with something of the correct size. It’s also about testing the fabric. Does it look good? Does it have the right amount of drape? Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you “get” gauge but the yarn you’ve chosen to get it gives you a fabric stiff as cardboard and you’re looking to make a shawl.
With shadow knitting, my favorite way to swatch is just to pick one color or the other and start knitting a piece of garter stitch. Here’s the kind of garter stitch I look for:
See how nice and snug those ridges are? That’s good. Here’s what I avoid:
If you get snug garter stitch, the gauge of your shadow fabric will generally give you a bold, legible hidden pattern.
This was also a good test flight for the Schoppel Gradient. As I mentioned in the last installment, I was concerned that the slightly irregular nature of the yarn might render it unsuitable for shadow knitting. But when I saw these nice, plump garter ridges
I knew I was good to go.
That’s what a swatch is supposed to do for you, you know–let you set forth without anxiety. Or at least with less anxiety.
What pattern to knit, though? I wanted, on this test flight, to try out the shifting colors and see how they’d play against one another. That meant keeping it simple. A square would have grown monotonous very quickly, so I charted up a circle.
As I’d hoped, what grew was a series of bold explosions on a moody background. The nature of shadow knitting is to stretch out motifs, so they were more oblong than circular. I liked that.
I also liked the way the simultaneous changes in the background and foreground led to the unexpected.
All the while, one thought kept nagging me. These looked like something I’d seen. What was it? Paints in a paintbox? Not quite. Candies on a tray? Definitely not.
I was talking with a knitter friend when it hit me.
“They look like the sun rising through clouds. In the morning, when they’re storm clouds full of city pollution, and I’m at the airport, and it’s really early, and my eyes are kind of bleary, and I have hours of horrible flying before I’ll get any kind of rest.”
“That’s cheery,” he said.
“Angry sunrises,” I said. “Eleven angry sunrises.”
“Some people are inspired by pretty flowers,” he said.
“That’s what I’m going to call this,” I said. “Eleven Angry Sunrises.”
“You can’t call a knitting pattern ‘Eleven Angry Sunrises.’”
“Because it sounds angry. Knitting is supposed to make you think happy thoughts.”
“Well, I’m not calling it Eleven Happy Sunrises.”
“Because it sounds like the name of a cult.”
“And what is knitting?”
I have to admit he had a point.
Your Own Adventure: Recipe for Eleven Happy (or Angry) Sunrises
Procure two skeins of Schoppel Gradient in different colorways. The more difference between your colorways, the bolder your surprises will be.
You will also need two stitch markers, and the shadow circle chart above. And of course, scissors and a tapestry needle. (Do I really have to tell you that? Patterns always tell you that, but do they really have to?)
As described above, knit a good-sized garter stitch swatch (about four inches by four inches will do it) to make sure you have a firm but not tight fabric. If the fabric could stand up in the corner by itself, it’s too firm. If it looks like fishnet, it’s too loose.
Don’t bind off the swatch; rip it out so you can use the yarn.
With your first color, cast on 27 stitches.
You’re going to put garter stitch borders around the sunrises just for pretty. So knit two rows with Color One, then join Color Two and knit two rows with that. From this point on, you will always alternate two rows of Color One, then two rows of Color Two.
Enough border. Time for pattern.
With Color One, knit three stitches. That’s your right-hand garter stitch border. Place a stitch marker. Knit the first row of the chart. You’ll have three stitches left; place a marker, then knit them. Those are your left-hand border.
Now, follow the chart when you’re inside the markers. Outside the markers, knit all stitches. Don’t cut the yarns at the end of each stripe, just carry them up the right-hand selvedge as you work.
When you have had quite enough, knit two more garter stripes–one in each color–and bind off using the color of the final stripe.
Block, if you like. Weave in ends. Admire.
*I still hate green beans.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue