Project 9 – Woven Structures

Having read some general basic weaving how-to guides, I set about making my loom. I had an old box canvas that I adapted by cutting off the canvas and removing the cross bars. The result isn’t quite as sturdy as a hardwood frame, but perfectly suitable for this project. I marked it out as instructed in our course notes and warped up with a medium thickness buff colour cotton. Fortunately the art shop behind our house is home  to the town spinners and weavers group, so they stock all I need. I have 4 shuttles and a shed stick. The warping up came together quite quickly as I wound it stright off the reel. I used the same cotton to weave a heading cord approximately 5cm up the frame.

I started plain weaving with acrylic sock yarn, creating stripes and squares before moving on to mixing weights of yarn. I was able to weave textured spots with single picks of chunky alpaca yarn. I then tried creating upward and downward curves using a mixture of plain weaving and eccentric wefts. Again I mixed textures using shiny and matt yarns, and used dots of colour in places as shading. It did take careful attention to avoid tightening or loops at the selvedges, and I did find that until a fairly large amount of weave was completed, the heading cord had a tendency to slip as it failed to grip tightly enough to the warp. Lifting the shed stick made weaving one way very quick indeed, but I found picking individual threads from behind quite labourious for the alternating shed. I tried tying loops to a second shed stitck to lift the alternating warp having read about ancient looms and techniques in “5000 Years of Textiles” from the British Museum, but the loops had to be exactly the same length for this work properly.

I wanted to explore different ways of dealing with vertical lines, and having read up on this I tried the 3 main methods – slit tapestry, interlocking weaves and dovetailing. This was very similar to intarsia colorwork in knitting. Slit tapestry was the preferred technique of the Navajo weavers and usually requires stitching from the reverse after weaving either in single knots creating a buttoned look, or a continuous stitch. It gives a very clean and solid demarcation of colours. Interlocking stitches also gave a strong line, but you have to be careful to keep the order of weaving and twisting consistent to avoid a jagged line. Dovetailing gives a soft blurring with a slightly raised edge, but is very neat and simpler to acheive. Across a whole weaving it does mean that vertical stripes need to worked simultaneously rather than in turn which slows down the process.

I then got a bit more experimental with yarn choices, using Habu textiles pom pom and textured fine yarns, hemp string, audio tape, fine metallic ribbon and eyelash yarns. I found the more rigid yarns such as string harder to weave without causing distortion and tightening at the selvedges.

Next I explored Soumak weaving techniques with a merino/silk blend, metallic synthetic yarn and acrylic sock yarn. I loved the thick structure that formed and experimented with working the loops around one or two warp threads, and using a contrasting colour between the looped picks. this only worked when smaller loops across single warp yarns were used, unless the number of plain weave picks between was increased. I used the Soumak rows for shading, progressing across a single pick from wide loops to narrow loops to plain weave. The traditional technique was essentially a stem stich worked over the warp, so I thought I would experiment with a different linear stitch. Chain stitch was really effective both as an isolated pick where the chain structure was more obvious, and as a block. A different look could be achieved by keeping the direction of chains worked the same or alternating directions.

I moved onto experimenting with rug making techniques and the individual and continuous Ghiordes knots. I tried blending different yarns in single knots, and mixed leaving loops uncut or cut. I tried using strips of netting, sheer fabric, sari fabric and frayed hessian. A section of continuous looped knots with striped ribbon was particularly effective. In the plain weave picks I tried weaving with fabrics and materials including dress fabric, netting, vegetable bags and plastic carrier bags.  The thicker the woven material in the weft, the more visible were the warp threads. The warp threads can be made less visible by setting them wider apart.

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