January 31, 2012

Punctuated Equilibrium

I buy things, thinking they will be useful for handspinning and then I don't use them because, as they are, they are useless.  They need to change or I need to change, so they sit and wait for change to happen.

I combed some more Hampshire wool with Viking combs.  As I unclamped the Indigo Hound pad, I realized that I could use it to support a toy wheel as I drove a dowel through with a hammer.  The hardwood dowel and toy wheel are from Lee Valley Tools and they are a tight fit.  I got a dozen of each.

Next I need to see about a hook to complete the drop spindle.

January 30, 2012

one hundred, forty-fourth skein

More of the rose red BFL I've spun before, hopefully spun the same weight though I didn't check.  About one ounce and 88 yards.  A product of mindless spinning that aspires someday to be weft.

January 28, 2012

Article on Caring for Items Made of Bone

I found it helpful to read Colleen Wilson's post, "What the Bones Know," on the Royal BC Museum blog, since I own some bone nalbinding needles.  Wilson covers conservation considerations and she explains the structure of the material.  She doesn't state whether the museum's new archeology display of bone objects will include fibre arts tools.

Speaking of nalbinding, I have messed around with the technique again.  Haven't made any fabric worth showing yet and my grasp of the stitch is shaky but I joined ends and made a round with F2 connections, and I successfully spliced yarn.  This is definitely progress.  I had the opportunity to sit with an instructor and a group of people also trying out nalbinding.  This time I'm using a hairy store-bought Icelandic singles yarn, Álafoss Lopi, and it's more suitable than the rug weft I tried last time.

January 27, 2012

How to Make an Old Believers Belt Tool for Tablet Weaving

Below, I give directions for making a cloth beam for weaving belts using tablets or cards.  I saw the design in Margaret Hixon's 1981 documentary film Old Believers (online at Folkstreams.net), which shows a weaver named Feodora Seledkova.  She used it to secure the near end of the warp at her waist.  It allows you to get a good warp-faced fabric by putting a lot of tension on the strands when beating the weft, yet it lets you relax the warp and turn the cards easily to change the shed.

For those of you who want to buy a cloth beam, not make or commission one, a different style of cloth beam is listed for sale on the Lacis website.  It is called a backstrap horse bar, and it looks very similar to a drawing of an Algerian and Moroccan-style cloth beam in Peter Collingwood's The Techniques of Tablet Weaving.  It should function just as well as this one.

You can use the information in this post, the dimensions, for personal and commercial purposes.  Make a cloth beam, sell a cloth beam, commission your favourite woodworker to make you a cloth beam.  Just don't pass off the design as your own or the wording of this blog post as your own.  I have no idea who designed the tool, and I don't even know if I have interpreted the film image correctly.  I paused the film, measured the image of the tool, and scaled it up using another object in the picture to guess at the size.  I make no guarantees about your final product.  All I can say is the reproductions I have of Seledkova's cloth beam work.

Here are two views of a cloth beam my father made for me.  Click to see a larger photo.  The wood would look prettier with more sanding but it works perfectly well like this.

You can see the cloth beam is made up of four pieces assembled together.  The two long pieces measure 8 x 0.5 x 0.5 inches.  The two short cross pieces measure 1 x 0.75 x 0.5 inches.  The outer edges of the short pieces are placed 2.25 inches in from the end; this leaves a hole in the middle 2 inches in length.  This placement gives the tool golden ratios (phi, Fibonacci series numbers) between measurements and makes it attractive.

This is what my father has to say about construction:
Use a good, straight grained hardwood, and ensure that it is the proper thickness.  Cut it by ripping it into the required width, crosscut into the necessary lengths, and sand all the parts smooth.  Then glue and clamp the cross bars to the long pieces.  When dry, use an electric drill to drill and countersink for 1 1/2 inch #6 Robertson screws.  Install the screws, then either round over all the edges using sandpaper, or use a roundover bit in a router.  Finish sand.

This could be done using hand tools, including a rip saw.  Alternatively, purchase already dimensioned pieces and assemble them yourself.  Commercially-available dowels would work, although you'd need to carve the cross piece ends to match the long side piece of dowel.  Not at all hard to do if you have a sharp knife.  Should take just a few minutes per joint.  The screws are the key to a solid tool.  
I asked him for a way to avoid visible screws, so that the tool could be used by historical re-enactors without drawing attention to its modern construction.
If you can sink the screw heads deeply enough, it is possible to insert a wooden plug (purchased or home cut using a plug cutter), but these pieces of wood are quite small to allow the 3/8 inch plug hole.  You can use the same wood or a contrasting wood for an interesting effect.  
If I were trying to avoid screws at all costs, I'd just glue the two pieces together (using traditional Medieval epoxy glue for strength, because the end of the cross piece is end grain and end grain doesn't glue well) and then drill a hole through the side and into the cross piece and drive in a glued wooden pin....If you do try to insert pins into glued holes, the glue will fill the hole and the pin will not be able to be inserted (you cannot compress a liquid, as you know) unless you provide a small groove on the pins for the glue to come out.
Alternatively, a re-enactor could glue a strip of leather over top of the screws to hide them.  As for whether the tool is authentic for a historical period, I can't tell you.  The 1981 film shows an elderly weaver, Seledkova, a member of a traditional culture who says that she emigrated from Russia during the Russian Revolution to China, then to Brazil after China's 1949 revolution, then to Oregon.  She says that she learned to weave belts before she left Russia and her people made belts when they were in China.  If she learned to weave with the same style of cloth beam, the design could be a hundred years old or older.  However, for all I know, the cloth beam's design could be only thirty years old and American in origin.

Please take all safety precautions when working with wood.

The best way to learn to use the cloth beam is to watch Seledkova in the film, though she doesn't set up the warp.  I figured out how to do that by watching someone warp a rigid heddle loom and by reading books.

You may also be interested in my post, "How to Make Inexpensive Cards for Tablet Weaving."

January 26, 2012

How to Make Inexpensive Cards for Tablet Weaving

I made a large stack of cards for tablet weaving.  By supplying some labour, I got cards at a lower cost than buying pre-made cards from a weaving supply shop.

I took some decks of playing cards, the oversized kind, and with a paper cutter I trimmed an end off of each card to make each square.  I rounded the corners with scissors.  On the advice of a relative, I went to a printing shop and had the holes cut.  I supplied the shop with a store-bought card for reference and I also made a template since the playing cards were larger.  To make the template, I drew circles on one playing card by laying the store-bought card over top, matching its corner with the corner underneath, tracing inside the hole, then repeating this by moving the store-bought card to each corner.

If I'd used a hole punch, some of the holes would be misaligned and I would have gotten discouraged from the tediousness of the task.  My dad tried using a drill press on a small stack of trimmings but the holes came out ragged.

Now I have enough cards to warp all one dozen of the Old Believer cloth beams my dad made.

January 25, 2012

Article about Hampshire Wool

I overdid it when combing the Hampshire wool and tired myself out, and as a result that project is on hold right now.  I'll pick it up again soon.

In the meantime, I read Deborah Pulliam's article, "Fiber Basics: Hampshire" in Spin•Off Spring 1998, p. 48-53, in which the author writes, "While not lustrous, Hampshire wool doesn't look flat and chalky as does the fleece of many other down breeds."  I like wool with lustre best, so it makes sense that I chose Hampshire wool out of the assortment of down breeds I selected from.

I don't know if you do that, if you turn to books other people have written on your topic, in order to get inspiration to get a project going again.  The article shows photos of sample yarns and swatches as well as helpful specifications for spinning Hampshire wool into sock yarn.  You want a 45 degree angle of twist, apparently.

January 24, 2012

Wee Seamless Yoke Sweater

I have knit a wee seamless yoke sweater out of leftover handspun.  Got the small scale using fine yarn and using stitch counts meant for bulky yarn.  Took the stitch counts from Ann Budd's The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns: Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes & Gauges.  I figured out the number of rows by guesswork but otherwise conversion was simple.

This is the first time I've tried seamless yoke construction.  I made the tiny sweater so I can use it for educational displays when my guild demonstrates handspinning for the public this spring.

January 20, 2012

Wearing Repairs on Your Sleeve

I read Hugh Dalton's Make Do and Mend, a reprinted pamphlet from the Second World War in Britain when clothing was rationed.  Some of the recommendations are rather everyday but many take thrift and conservation to lengths that amaze me; for example, switching the sleeves on a sweater from one side to the other to even out wear.

There are all the ways to patch things that sound too far gone to me, and a lot of concern I can't relate to about preserving a certain foundation garment made with a scarce commodity, rubber.

There's cutting down, piecing together, and making alterations that surely must announce to the world that you'd gained weight or suffered a moth invasion.

Some tips are vague.  I'm still not sure how the leg of an old woollen stocking becomes an infant sweater bound with ribbon.

It's fun to read about those items of clothing that are unfamiliar, such as golf stockings, a suit with tails, and plus-fours.

January 19, 2012

Combed Hampshire

Have begun to comb the Hampshire wool I carried home in triumph from Qualicum Bay Fibre Works this past fall.

Down breed wool holds on to chaff and tends to be short stapled.  After a number of passes with Viking combs, I have the longest wool of the lot, all in the best shape and almost completely free of bits.  Decided to do it right and use the diz to get the wool off the combs in a uniform arrangement.

Lots more left to comb.  The little yarn samples I spun look promising.  The wool was exceptionally easy to draft, because combing makes the wool evenly distributed, alined, and the opposite of compacted.

Nice that this bout of fibre processing fulfills a number of my goals; for example, use un-dyed fibre, comb more fibre, and use stash.

January 17, 2012

Possible to Spin Using an Umbrella Swift

I saw someone spinning cotton with the business end of a charka (the spindle and the posts that support it) driven by a band slipped over an umbrella swift clamped sideways and opened wide.  The swift looked and acted like a rimless, Asian-style wheel.  Brilliant bit of repurposing.

January 16, 2012

one hundred, forty-second and forty-third skeins

I spun four ounces of Jacob into these two skeins, which have about 90 yards each.  I meant to knit my first socks with them but I'm told there isn't enough yardage.

January 13, 2012

A Horrible Sort of Logic

I came across this:
With the rise of capital-intensive cotton farming in Telangana [India] over the last thirty years, two strange contradictions have arisen.  First, the primary cash crop, cotton, continues to decline in value; yet, farmers continue to plant more of it.  Why do the farmers not shift to other crops?  Second, while the regional's overall growth in agricultural output has been robust–more than 4 percent per annum for many years–the incomes and consumption of most farmers have declined precipitously, and this manifests as farmers' suicides and support for the Naxals.  The question now becomes: Why do farmers go into debt so as to plant a crop (cotton) for which the price is falling? 
A brilliant young economic historian, Vamsi Vakulabharanam, has identified and explained the politics of this contradictory, seemingly nonsensical set of facts.  The answer, he writes, lies in the credit system.  The moneylenders demand that cotton be planted with their capital because cotton is inedible, so during times of crisis, producers cannot "steal," that is eat, it.  Moneylenders essentially give advances on crops, then receive the harvest.  If a farm family is dying of hunger and their crop is grain, chances are they will eat the collateral crop to stay alive, rather than give it to the moneylender.  Cotton avoids this problem.  Thus, even when food crops, like grains, command higher prices, they carry greater risks for the moneylenders.  Cotton is the moneylenders' biological insurance; they steer farmers away from food crops, even if the potential for profits is higher, because only cotton is guaranteed collateral.  Using this insight, Vakulabharanam shows that since 1980, farmers in Telangana have moved away from planting coarse grains, like jowar, barley, and millet, toward growing cotton, even as the price signal should have them doing the opposite. 
–Christian Perenti, Tropic of Chaos (New York: Nation Books, 2011), p 146.  

January 12, 2012

Hat Gone A-Roving No More

The one Christmas gift I made, the hat I mailed off at the start of December?  I hear it finally arrived.  I was worried there.

January 11, 2012

Finished the Tablet-woven Hearts

The card weaving samples I showed you the other day are now finished and so is the accompanying writeup.

Experienced weavers have reviewed both and said the fabric and writeup are ready for submission to the guild newsletter.

Here's the writeup, the pattern if you will, the project notes or documentation.

I passed threads through holes in the corners of a 3 inch square piece of cardstock.  The holes are marked clockwise A, B, C, and D.  I used 20 cards.  I alternately threaded cards Z and S; that is, one card had threads passing through from the left and the other from the right when viewed on the axis from above.  The cards hold the shed open and you turn the cards to change the shed.  I turned the pack of cards together, continually forward by quarter turns.  After every quarter turn, I threw a pick.  The far end of the warp was tied to a post and the near end fastened to a small cloth beam at my waist.

The fabric is warp-faced and warp-twined: the warp threads slant.  The alternate Z and S threading creates small chevrons across the fabric (cards 1 & 2, 3 & 4, etc.).  The contrasting accent colour shows the chevrons, hopefully appearing as tiny white hearts.  I placed the white chevrons across the strap according to a Fibonacci number sequence: 3 pink chevrons, 1 white chevron, 2 pink, 1 white, 3 pink.  I placed one white chevron at D and the other at C so you could see that for each card, a thread comes to the surface every four picks; that is, a complete turn of the card.

The fabric is thick and strong, useful for the strap of a bag.  Done in fine silk with both white chevrons placed at D, this sort of weaving would make a nice bookmark.

January 10, 2012

A Past Resolution

Early this past October, I resolved that until New Year's I would make only one handspun gift and anything else I made would be something for myself, a skein spun for fun, or a practice piece for the purpose of learning a new skill I would later apply to making something for myself.

It was tough to come to that point, to realize that was what I really wanted.  I had a goal of making a handspun gift for each member of my extended family.  That was being achieved at the cost of my other goal of making handspun items for me to use.  I kept excusing the situation, telling myself it didn't matter and that all goals are good so really they couldn't be working at cross purposes.

Right now I'm telling myself it doesn't matter that my fibre and tools have a messy overflow problem.  Hmm.

January 09, 2012

Current List of Goals

I keep a list of future possible projects and guiding principles around for reference.  They change from time to time.  Right now, this is the list:

  • comb a whole lot of Romney
  • focus on making lovely handspun stuff for me to use and wear, not for gifts
  • knit first pair of socks
  • learn sprang
  • learn to knit a sweater
  • learn to weave plain weave and to use a loom
  • make enough handspun clothes for an outfit
  • make small handspun shoulder bag
  • no more synthetic dyes (use up what dyed wool I have on hand)
  • spin and weave hooded jacket
  • spin flax
  • spin from stash to cull stash
  • spin the rest of the merino to get rid of it
  • stash enhancement: buy more BFL fibre! buy local!
  • take a risk and spin the good stuff; don't hold off out of fear, there is more good wool out there
  • use my wool combs more often because combed fibre is so very, very nice
  • use up stashed skeins of handspun yarn
  • weave linen into Ms and Os cloth

I look at that list and think, oh, that one I could almost scratch off but it's so good and I'll probably come back to it so I'll keep it around...I've got materials for this one which is a good start...I want to do this, that, and the other but I lack opportunity/role models/intestinal fortitude...which to do first...why am I doing that, it's not even on the list...that one won't happen for ages...maybe I should drop such-and-such a one...ah, I know exactly how I want that one to turn out and there's a risk it won't so I will brace myself to make lots of practice pieces until I get it right or I find I am actually pursuing a dead end.

The other thing I think is this: there is so much I don't know how to do yet and so much I haven't done.  That is a cool thought.  I like to learn.

I drove out one day in the Virginia countryside on a two-lane highway.  A deer ran straight across the road and kept going.  I'm used to deer on Vancouver Island.  They're lightly built.  They amble and dawdle, and they hold up traffic.  This Virginia deer looked seriously motivated.  I drove on toward to the shop, found it closed, and turned back.  Two hunting dogs came up the bank, sniffed the deer's trail, and crossed when traffic cleared.

Not promising to go flat out like that deer but I do mean to make progress on the list.

January 07, 2012

Tablet-woven Hearts and New Belt Tools

Happy Distaff Day!

I have been card (tablet) weaving four inch long samples for enclosure in a weaving guild newsletter.  The jumbled pile in the photo shows two warps that started out about four metres long each.  I have another warp to go.

The pieces are mostly pink with a repeated motif in off-white that is supposed to look like a heart.  As I wrote in my observations of the Jerusalem Garter museum piece, when you thread alternately one card S and the other Z across the pack of cards you get little chevrons.  The white chevrons stand out against the pink chevrons.

The cloth beam is new.  My father looked at the cloth beam I'd had custom made for myself this past spring and he told me that by specifying the tool be made all in one piece, I had created spots where the grain of the wood could split.  I took the specs from a tool used for making belts by a weaver named Feodora Seledkova in an old documentary film and I didn't give any thought to the woodgrain.

Made sense when he pointed it out, and was a bit of a concern given the amount of pull the tool has to stand up to.  I secure the far end of the warp to an immovable object, tuck the cloth beam's closer prongs into a sash or belt loops at my waist, and lean back when beating down the warp to create the weft-faced cloth.  At the last guild meeting, I tied the warp to a cart holding a stack of folding tables, the heaviest thing in the room.  I forgot the cart was on wheels.  A couple of friends were watching me weave and without telling me (until after) they leaned on the cart quite hard to counter my pull and keep the cart in place.

My dad made me a dozen new cloth beams with the grain of the middle pieces running perpendicular to the long pieces and Robertson screws holding the three pieces together.  My dad would particularly like you to notice the Robertson screws, as they are very Canadian.  Most of the cloth beams are made of maple from trees that grew on Vancouver Island and if memory serves the darker wood is local alder.

ETA: directions for making cloth beams are in a post here.