Thursday, May 14

Small steps to weaving

It's now almost a year since I bought myself a new toy, courtesy of Patricia, a fellow Raveler. At last I plucked up the courage - and found the time - to make a start!


This is a 4-shaft Dryad table loom that I bought second-hand from Patricia's friend Lily, who was selling reluctantly after years of happy weaving. As well as the loom, which was transported home in the back of the car from Loughborough, I bought a copy of Deborah Chandler's book Learning to Weave.

Back at home I cleared under the stairs, bought a new table from Ikea, and set up Crafting Corner - loom on the top, sewing machine, sewing basket and various knitting and dyeing supplies underneath - and promptly let it fester for nine months. Perhaps I should say that it was simply the gestation period?

I kept thinking about starting but kept stalling. Should I go on a course? Set aside a weekend for experimentation? Get someone round to help me?

My first hurdle to clear was to get myself some method of measuring out the warp, which is the long bits of yarn that run from front to back and which you weave through. They have to all be the same length, and have to be wound in such a way that you can lift them off whatever you have measured them on, and place them onto the loom with minimum fuss.

Warping boards can be quite expensive and are large items which take up a lot of space - if you have plenty of wall space they can be hung up, but that's not an option available to me. So I availed myself of a set of handmade warping pegs from a retired teacher selling on Ebay for £10; they can be clamped to the table at whatever distance apart you require, and the warp is wound round and measured out on them. A special figure of eight manoeuvre before the last peg keeps the warping threads in the right order and makes it easy to count them and transfer them to the loom.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about warping the loom was the terminology associated with the process. To be able to state that I had sleyed my reed (as in a Facebook post 'The Knit Nurse has....sleyed her reed') made me feel immensely proud, as well as slightly smug, as if I had learned the password for some kind of secret society!

I allowed myself to enjoy the smugness for a few minutes, since I knew that this was only the tiniest fraction of the process - it was a great feeling that I had managed to teach myself to do this, but only a tiny step towards the summit.

For the uninitiated, sleying means threading - and the reed and the heddles are both parts of the loom which the warp passes through. They keep the warp at an even distance apart (the reed) and are raised and lowered in different orders and combinations (the heddles) to make the shed (the gap) through which you pass your shuttle, carring the weaving thread.


Check out my reed - it's fully sleyed!

Sleying takes quite a long time, a good eye (which thankfully I have) and you can also get special tools to assist with the threading. I fashioned my own version of a dual-purpose sleying/heddle hook from a bent paper clip.



Once sleyed, the warp must be tied to the front and back aprons and wound on to the starting point. Deborah Chandler's book describes several different methods of warping a loom - from the front, from the back, and another version which is a combination - in great detail. Sometimes in too much detail in fact, leaving me flipping the pages impatiently to skip whole paragraphs debating the pros and cons of each version in an attempt to get to the next set of instructions.

But with plenty of instructions, photos and diagrams, the process was fairly straightforward, albeit somewhat exhausting and time-consuming. And I made it eventually, learning quite a few things along the way (which no doubt I will have forgotten by the time I next warp a loom!).

The next step, to start weaving, presented me with another obstacle - no shuttles! Not to be deterred, and given some impetus by the success of the homemade sleying hook, I devised a couple of shuttles out of some very stiff corrugated cardboard. I wound them with the weaving thread, and started to weave 'tabby' (another secret handshake!). Unfortunately the shuttles proved to be shittles, bending in the middle after very little use (whose stupid idea to cut the corrugated cardboard that way?!) and annoying me because they were very difficult to pass through the shed without catching on the warp. I persevered for a while, until the opportunity presented itself to go to the Handweavers Studio in Walthamstow to buy some proper stick shuttles.



Please admire my first attempt (using shittles) and anticipate how much improved the next bit will be, now that I've got proper shuttles! I will do my best to live up to your expectations.

I'm not sure whether I am going to really take to weaving - I guess the real test will come when I get past the process and on to the creative side. There seems to be lots of calculation involved in designing ones own weave, and I am reluctant to let too much maths into my life. At this point I just want to explain that I have a degree in civil engineering (a large part of which was maths), but I now work in the media, where words are my daily bread. I suspect studying for the degree might have crushed any interest or expertise I had in maths and science. However, if I take to this weaving lark, I might make an exception - I'm certainly not going to let it stop me from trying!

2 comments:

tigerlove said...

I know this is an old post just wondering how you got on with your weaving and whether you did any more? I am just embarking on a weavers day on Tuesday next Feb 2016. I found two table looms in my parents loft and so wanted to try and use them?

A A Lindsay said...

Hello Tigerlove

I just wanted to wish you luck and much enjoyment for your weavers day!! I've been weaving for a year with a Tuesday group and also bought an old Dryad loom from ebay which I inherited with a lovely golden silk warp. I get a lot of enjoyment experimenting wiht colours and basic weaves during the evening after work :)