Fridays with Franklin: Butthurt

fwf-logo-columnsizeFor an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

In my life there is (and always has been) a constant battle between the useful and the beautiful, the aesthetic and the ergonomic.

It’s no use going all Corbusier on me, either, and suggesting that I learn to appreciate household goods that are meant to be cogs in a machine for living.

I grew up in military houses decorated by a mother who used beige as an accent color, and once rejected a bedspread of pale gray striped with white as Too Busy. Carved details on furniture gave her headaches. Antiques gave her the heebie-jeebies. She was sure they were either haunted or harboring lice.

Naturally, I have grown up to become the sort of person who uses old bits of china and silver–the more floral, the better–to hold tools in my workroom. I love color. Lots of color, as you may have gathered from the beginnings of my excursion to crazy quilt knitting last time.

workroom-china
The piece with the fans and sunflowers is a British-made Aesthetic Movement toothbrush holder. Somewhere up there, my mother is gagging.

My intent this week was to show you the next stage of the crazy quilt project, but two things happened. First, the dear postman who was entrusted with the stage two yarns threw them, so far as we can tell, into Lake Michigan. I hope the fish enjoy them. Perhaps they can knit themselves little fish mittens.

Second, my workroom chair threw my butt out of whack.

Here’s the chair. Cute, right? That’s why I chose it. It’s cute.

chair
In the background is my trust Schacht Wolf Pup 8.10, nakedly awaiting our next adventure.

My workroom is in a building my mother probably would have admired. It was built as an automotive garage, and includes such charming features as cinderblock walls, rubber industrial flooring, and dropped ceilings.

That’s Chicago, baby. You get what you can get. If I want a skylit studio in a sweet vintage building, I’ll have to give up knitting for a living in order to afford it.

I figured I could warm up the space with furnishings and décor, sparse as they presently are. The chair is a key part of that. Not for me, some rolling plastic and rubber grotesquerie from an office supply chain. Heavens, no.

It was all fine until I spent a  long day in the chair, pushing out work to meet a draconian deadline–then stood up and fell right down again.

Wouldn’t you know, wood slats and a rush seat don’t offer the last word in lumbar support; nor do they cradle my aging buttocks in a manner sufficiently ergonomic to keep them happy. The sweet little chair just about crippled me.

I appealed to a local friend who is an expert in these matters, and she told me to turn the chair into a plant stand and go buy something sensible. I got all quivery and weepy.

She sighed and said, fine– if I must insist upon using it, at least pad the damn thing. That might help.

So I warped my trusty Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom, because I wanted to weave the fabric for my new cushion. Because of course I did.

The yarn had been in my “Fridays with Franklin” stash since the last time I played with shadow knitting in these pages. I adore shadow knitting, in fact it’s a subject I teach with the zeal of an evangelist. But that project failed to make me happy–the theory of the mitered shadowing didn’t turn out as I’d hoped.

I kept all the leftover yarns, though, because the yarn did make me happy. It’s gorgeous stuff–HiKoo Llamor, 100% baby llama.

leftover-llamor-yarn
The sewing box isn’t an heirloom–it came from the Aumuller Korbwaren line carried by Makers’ Mercantile. There’s a link at the end of this entry.

Those colors  would punch the industrial gloom of the workspace right in the nose. There are echoes of them in some of my painted china. That shocking pink may well set the drop ceiling on fire.

I couldn’t keep my butt waiting forever, so I made the warp (almost) as simple as I could: stripes, symmetrical, tied on without any real planning. I followed my nose, putting some of each color into the mix.

warp-ties
Except I forgot the purple, because it fell off the table.

A warp like this takes a newbie like me about two hours to finish. I love the look of a fresh warp. It’s so orderly. Full of potential.

warp-backbeam
spreaders
For the weft pattern, I settled on more simplicity: eight shots of each color, forming broad stripes. To prepare, I wound a bobbin of each color (including, this time, the purple). Using a boat shuttle meant changing from one to the next was as easy as clicking out the old bobbin and clicking in the new.

bobbins
Then, I wove.

weaveinprogress

It took about four hours–maybe it would have been three if I hadn’t been watching The Crown–to whip up this.

yardage-folded

yardage-flat

The fabric is off the loom, but not finished. I need to:

• stabilize the cut ends with two quick lines of machine sewing,
• repair three or four skips (places where the shuttle went over or under a wrong warp thread),
• wet finish the fabric so it will be ready to sew into a cushion.

I’ll show you the finishing next time, though I’m just about to get down to it. This project has a certain urgency. Happy butt, happy me.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

HiKoo Llamor Yarn (100% Baby Llama, 109 yards per 50g ball)
Schacht Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom, 15-Inch
Aumuller Korbwaren Large Cantilevered Sewing Box (one style of the many carried by Makers’ Mercantile)

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat. He will lead his own knitting cruise to Bermuda in September, 2018.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.

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This Is Not Going to Be Pretty

fwf-logo-columnsizeFor an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

I am unabashedly in love with rigid heddle weaving. I’ve written about it repeatedly, in “Fridays with Franklin” and elsewhere.

My Schacht Cricket rigid heddle loom was reasonably priced and is sturdy, portable, reliable, and easy to use. I love what I make with it. I love the way it helps me to burn through stash and see new possibilities in old yarns.

I have crowed so much about it that shops and guilds have begun asking me to come over and teach rigid heddle weaving. I’d love to, but have said over and over that I don’t feel I’m quite ready yet to do that.

I’ve said over and over that I won’t feel qualified to teach it until I’ve done enough to have made lots more mistakes.

But this project, the project I will be writing about today, has moved me miles closer to be ready to teach rigid heddle weaving. Yeah. Let’s look at it that way.

Before we begin, I’d like to introduce the little bunny who will be playing the part of my Better Judgment.

fwf-56-firstbunny
We’ll be hearing a lot from him.

The Idea

This past summer I was privileged to attend a weaving conference for the first time. I took a bunch of excellent classes from some legendary teachers. I saw techniques in the fashion show and the gallery that set my brain on fire, including methods for decorating the fibers before weaving (i.e., painted warps) and after weaving (i.e., felted decorations, embroidery, shibori).

The painted warps especially grabbed my attention because of the possibility adding pattern to plain-woven fabric. Most of the painted warps were utterly abstract–bold splashes of color running into one another. Pretty, but it seemed to me that many yarns (like our own, dear HiKoo Concentric) could give much the same effect right off the ball.

What I wondered was whether I could paint a repeating pattern on a warp, then weave a warp-dominant (see next section) fabric with it. The finished piece would be boldly patterned and full of curves–large-repeat patterns and curves being the preserve, generally, of multi-shaft looms–but also be made simply on my Schacht Cricket.

I asked a pack of the experienced weavers I know if they had any advice about this, and they all said no, in their collective 600 years of weaving they hadn’t seen it done before quite as I proposed to do it.

fwf-56-toldyoubunny
Yes, perhaps.

The Canvas

A warp-dominant fabric is one in which the warp threads enjoy greater visual prominence than the weft threads that cross them. This may be a result of a difference in warp and weft yarn weights; or the result of packing of the warp yarns closer together than would be called for in a balanced weave.* Or it may be a combination of the two.

I wanted a big thick warp to paint on, and a delicate little weft to hold the warp together but not grab the spotlight.

So for warp I chose Delilah Undyed DK Yarn.

undyed-alpaca

And for weft I chose HiKoo Alpaca Lace Light.

fwf-56-alpacalacelight

My weaving friends said those fibers would be prone to stick together, so I might want to think twice. But they’re almost always weaving slippery stuff–tencel, silk, cotton, rayon. Whereas I have almost always worked in wool, and that is practically alpaca which is practically llama, if you squint. So what did they know?

fwf-56-bunnyeyescovered

Pegging It Out

One of the reasons I wanted to use the Schacht Cricket for this is that I’d always seen warp painting done (“always” being, you know–twice, from a distance) with the parallel strands of the warp stretched out on a framework. And of course if you use the direct-warp method on a rigid heddle loom, before winding on that’s exactly what you get.

The only change I needed to make, it seemed to me, was the orientation of the warping peg. The warping peg is usually vertical, and this causes the yarns to tilt as they approach it.

fwf-56-vertpeg
Standard vertical warping peg.

To keep my yarns horizontal all the way from loom to peg, I did this–which I’ll draw, since a drawing will be easier to understand than a photograph.

 

fwf-56-horziontal-warping-peg

You want to use a sturdy dowel, of course, or a length of smooth metal pipe or a metal rod. Your peg shouldn’t bend under the tension of all those wrapped yarns. If it bends, your yarn ends will be different lengths, and there your troubles will begin.

I hoped this theory would work in practice. You can imagine my delight when I stood looking at this.

fwf-56-stretchedwarp
The heddle is at the far end, to keep the it out of the way of the painting. This seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Motif

I knew perfectly well that no matter how much I care I took to preserve the lengths and alignments of my warp threads, they were going to wiggle and slip some during the process. So I told myself:

1) Do something large and abstract, rather than figural or representational.

2) Don’t put any fine, or even medium, detail into it. It’ll just get lost.

Then I started sketching. Within ten minutes I had forgot both 1 and 2. Ultimately I devised an Art Nouveau(ish) lotus with lots of detail.

lotus-cutout

The little bunny, in case you’re wondering, was out having a smoke at the time.

fwf-56-bunnycloset

The Stencil

I hadn’t done any stenciling in years, and never on yarn. In “Fridays with Franklin” I always use supplies from Makers’ Mercantile, so I asked them to send me two colors of their Createx Fabric Paint. This is a paint, not a dye. You apply it to the fiber and it sticks, and can be set permanently by putting the fabric in a hot dryer for 40 minutes after the paint is dry to the touch, or by ironing it. Nice.

I cut my stencil out of freezer paper, bought at the grocery store. It was inexpensive, a good size, and I was able to trace the design through it onto the shiny side of the paper.

fwf-56-tracelotus
Yeah, I added leaves. The flower looked so lonely without them.

and cut it out neatly with an X-Acto Knife.

fwf-56-cutstencil
Like buttah.

The Painting

I smugly made certain my warp was long enough to allow me some space to experiment. That was good thing, because my first lotus was a mushy mess.

I soon realized that I needed to support the warp on a smooth, flat surface while I stenciled. In my case, a couple of box lids stacked on the table underneath worked fine.

fwf-56-boxlids

 

Dabbing from the top with little vertical jabs worked well to apply the paint only where I wanted it, disturbing the threads as little as possible.

fwf-56-paintingstencil

But the wet stencil was pain to handle, even when I held it with one hand while dabbing with the other. (You can see it buckling in the photo above.) So I taped it (with strong packing tape) into an improvised, stiff frame made of cardboard strips. It worked!

With each repeat, my pace picked up and soon the lotuses were looking good, but ghostly.

fwf-56-silverlotus
The paint was dark in the bottle, but the yarn sucked it up and diluted it to a pale pearl. I was happy to have the gold to hand for reinforcements. With the silver dry to the touch, I offset the stencil and dabbed on the gold to turn the silver into a pretty, smoky shadow.

fwf-56-finishedlotus
Not half bad, if you ask me.

It wasn’t a quick process, but so what? This was starting look, dare I say it, I amazing.

 

fwf-56-paintedwarp
Dang, I’m good.

The rest was just weaving. And I know how to weave. What could possibly go wrong?

fwf-56-bunny-ring
See you in two weeks.

*A balanced weave has the same number of threads per inch in both its horizontal and vertical grains.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Schacht Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom (15-inch version shown)
Schacht Cricket 12-Dent Reed (for 15-inch loom)
Delilah Undyed DK Yarn (100% Baby Llama, De-Haired)
HiKoo Alpaca Lace Light (shown in 1006 Smoke, 100% Baby Alpaca, 1540 yards per 100 gram hank)
Createx Acrylics Fabric Paint

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.