Adventures in Weaving

I thought I would finally come here and talk a bit about the latest craft to take firm hold of my heart: weaving. Looking back it developed in almost the same way as my passion for spinning did the summer before: I didn’t see the interest in weaving coming at all, until it was there and then it instantly became so powerful and all overpowering that thoughts of weaving filled my head daily to the point it regularly featured in my dreams. Mind, my brain devotes a considerably time of thoughts to crafts and making on any day already so I consider it particular impressive when something new catches my interest and makes a dent in that. Even more so when it hangs around and continues to do that for months!

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts I started with tablet weaving previous summer. Once upon a time I was really into living history and re-enactment and outside the scope of this blog I’ve been getting more interested in that again fuelled by a reignited love for history and textile history. It’s odd coming back to something that was such a huge part of you once, but I’m glad that I’m now at a place in my life where I can come back to it and it feels good. My first adventures in tablet weaving included a lot of struggling with threads, knots and concepts. With a mind that has knitting and sewing imprinted in it, learning this completely different craft was like learning to swim, and a lot of the time I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. That however, did not make it less interesting or enjoyable! While I was struggling with card turns, twist built up and tension I regularly sat thinking in perplexed wonder how someone somewhere just invented this craft and all the many intricate patterns. It still blows my mind that this is actually one of the oldest crafts and that once upon a time people from far and wide knew how to do it.

When I started my trials in tablet weaving, I used a lot of improvised tools and DIY: I punched holes in playing cards as tables, reinforced another playing card with tape to use as a stick shuttle and used a table leg to tie the ends to, a method called the back-strap method. You can see a photo of my materials and the first two bands I did at the end of the post I wrote here.

In terms of yarns too, I’ve mainly been using up remnants and odd bits and balls of yarn from my stash and I’ve yet to break out fancier yarn for a project. For weaving, smooth and strong yarns rule supreme, so no rustic woollen spun wools! Imagine my face when I learned to avoid the exact yarn qualities that make for a great fair isle yarn! These deep-stash cottons don’t exactly breath historical reenactment vibes, but they’re great learning material. This has resulted in some colour pairings that I wouldn’t necessarily pick together in a store, and a lot of repetition as well (“ooh, another purple and green combination you say?”).

Well, half a year later and I can confess I have invested in better equipment: I got two beautiful wooden shuttles made by a small company in Lithuania that specialises in tablet weaving equipment. I also got better weaving cards that are a bit bigger than the playing cards and they make weaving a lot easier.

The biggest improvident to my weaving equipment was getting a small loom. When I started out I just used the back-strap method, where you tie one end of the warp to something like a sturdy chair and you tie the other end to yourself. While this definitely works it does, literally, tie you down to one spot, so you cannot quickly go grab a cup of tea or pet the cat without unbuckling yourself first. Counter-intuitively it means that it takes a lot more effort to start a ‘session’ of weaving, as you first have to sort out the tangles in your work that inevitably get in your WIP when you lay it somewhere for the night (I think my house gnomes had a good laugh every night turning it into a messy blob) and then tie it on. I noticed this put up a barrier for me, as I like to be able pick up and set aside a variety of different crafts on any given day.

Historically, back-strap was used for a long time, but we also have plenty of historical sources for early looms. Take the Oseberg loom, named for the burial mound were it was found (together with some of the most incredible Viking age archaeological finds we have today). The Oseberg find is extremely exciting in terms of historical textile nerdery. In addition to other treasures and the loom, it included a wealth of textiles; including garments, tapestries, and craft equipment such as weaving tablets and needles. Most astonishingly the loom was found with a band weaving project still ‘in progress’ on it! This style of loom features in medieval artwork as well, so we know it was used for a long period in history. Other, later, options are box looms or board looms, the latter of which is basically just a wooden plank with a place to attach your warp to at each end. A modern loom designed specifically for tablet weaving is the Inkle loom.

I was first looking to either make a board loom from wood myself or get an inkle loom, with the former having my preference. I had even drawn up some plans and went to the hardware store to look at wood options. But then I saw a post about how you could use your rigid heddle loom for tablet weaving and then that became an option too. These are the types of looms that I see most often in the online craft world, even outside the ‘specialist stores’, as as they are the most readily available and affordable types of loom, so an easier stepping stone into the world of weaving than getting a big loom. I found a low cost, 50cm rigid heddle at the store I also get my spinning equipment, and that seemed like a amazing solution to my band weave loom void and at the same time would allow me to dip further into the weaving world by allowing me to weave slightly broader pieces.

A few days later, a few minutes of assembling, a bit of beeswax polish and I had a nice loom ready to go! These rigid heddles are produced in a factory in Germany. This one doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles and accessories you would want if you wanted to get the most out of your rigid heddle, but since I mainly want to use it for tablet weaving, and maybe do a couple of RH projects on the side, it was perfect for me. My rigid heddle has a 50 cm width so it’s small enough to handle on my lap and rest on a coffee-table but enough of a width to experiment more with rigid heddle weaving to see how it suits me in practise.

For tablet weaving on this thing I mainly follow the second method as described in this post. So I tie one end of my warp threads (the vertical threads) to the first beam, this is the beam were I roll my finished band on as I weave. The other ends of the warp threads I tie on the back beam, but do not roll on the beam as rolling wouldn’t allow you to tension the threads (essential for weaving!). At first I tied my ends to the back beam in a big loose knot as the Kromski post shows, however as I progressed in my weaving I found that this didn’t enable me to tension all the threads properly and made my weaving messy as a result. So what I do now is tie the threads separately in tiny groups responding to the cards they are woven through (so all 4 threads of the first card are tied together in one group and so on). While this is more work on my end as I have to do this each time I unroll more warp threads, it makes weaving and tensioning a lot easier and my weaving, especially my transitions a lot neater and smoother.

Now, for the actual weaving, a fun little titbit for all you knitters/sewist reading this: in tablet weaving there is no standard way of noting down patterns! It’s as if the weaving entities looked down at tablet weaving in the modern era and thought to themselves… you know what, this craft really isn’t quite niche enough altogether yet, let’s throw in some more hurdles for those poor souls that attempt it. Anyway, as a consequence I’ve until this point only used patterns that used the way of pattern notation that I learned it with, but at some point will put on a brave face and branch out into new and confusing waters.

The patterns I have been using have come from Karen who, under the alias of Elewys of Finchingefeld, makes tablet weaving videos and blogposts. To the new learner her videos and posts are a treasure-trove and I honestly have no idea whether I would have gotten so far with tablet weaving without them. Especially her “weave along” videos are amazing for the baby weaver that has no idea what they are doing (but also for the slightly less baby weaver). So far I’ve been sticking to relatively straightforward patterns, started with really simple ones and then progressed into more advanced, just let my hands get used to the motions and my head get used to the pattern notations etc but I’m excited to dive into the world of skipped holes and half turns at some point.

In the meantime I’ve also tried my hand at a rigid heddle project. This didn’t have my main interest when I first got this loom and I wasn’t sure how much I would use the loom for it in the future but I go into these things with and open mind and I did want to try it out and to further my practical understanding of weaving. Rigid heddles are a minimalistic kind of loom that in it’s bare bones form can only be used to weave in plain/tabby weave and you are also tied to using thicker yarns than you can use on a more advanced loom. You can get around the “only plain weave” issue somewhat by using extra heddles, pick up sticks and tied bundles and I have seen incredible patterns woven on RH looms by skilled weavers, but it will always be a lot more of a hassle to weave and it will slow you down a lot in comparison to a loom with harnesses/shafts.

For my first RH project I used the direct warping method that you can see demonstrated in this video. I used my wooden umbrella swift to anchor the warp threads on ( I love how being a multicrafter makes my tools have multiple uses too). I warped 20 threads of one colour before switching to the contrasting colour resulting in a striped pattern with the warp(vertical) threads, which when done similarly with the weft (horizontal) threads, becomes a pleasing block pattern weave.

Another reason why I wanted to try weaving fabric on my rigid heddle loom was to see if weaving pieces of fabric was something I would enjoy. Loving the idea of something is decidedly different than loving actual doing it! However, I loved the soothing rhythm of weaving on the rigid heddle and whereas I initially struggled a lot with the motions of tablet weaving, weaving cloth on the rigid heddle felt very intuitive and natural. No doubt the bit of experience in tablet weaving I built up in the meantime helped with this. I feel that my instant joy at weaving on this loom is a good sign towards liking weaving bigger pieces, perhaps, on a bigger loom some day. I mainly wanted to weave this project to further my understanding of weaving and it really did; I learned a lot about tensioning, thread transitions, weaving shrinkage and finishing techniques, not to mention warped a loom for the first time! The project tells a story; in the first half of the project you can clearly see my struggle points and adjustments made and you can see those fizzle out more by the end of the piece. While I don’t really have a plan for the finished piece, I might turn it into a towel or sew it into a cover for something. Alternatively I can coddle it forever as my precious first woven piece of fabric, I’m pleased with the project all the same. I surprised myself with how much I liked weaving on this project and I kind of regret that at this stage I can’t see myself become a regular towel/small project weaver (but who knows if not for this period in my life than maybe at a later point?).

Ultimately, I think a rigid heddle won’t serve me to best fulfil what draws me in weaving. Since my interest in it sparked, I’ve been browsing and researching and getting entranced by incredible tweeds, herringbones and tartans, Ikat pieces and overshot weaves. At that time, I spend more time looking at archaeological finds, traditional weaving communities and at weaving patterns than is probably considered ‘normal’… especially for someone without any weaving equipment! Perhaps not surprising, considering the type of things I knit, marvellous weaving patterns and colour combinations are big pull-factors for me. I’d also love to be able to eventually weave pieces I can sew with – which means weaving with finer yarns. Even with extra heddles and makeshift pick up sticks, a small rigid heddle loom won’t take me to that. On the flip side, an actual shaft loom is a huge investment in space, money and time, so I’ve been trying to decide if that’s a path I want to go down or not. It appears this Treehouse-resident has never met a craft that she didn’t like. It’s more than that though; when I’m working with wool, combing fibres, clicking my needles, cutting fabric or moving a shuttle through the warp shed, it feels like a homecoming in my bones. Especially now I’m feeling more and more how different crafts I fo connect, play and grow with each other.

Nimue seems to prefer this plain weave over those narrow bands at the top of this post

It’s funny to think back now how when I just started knitting, that was something that really raised some eyebrows and turned heads of other passengers in the train for example, but compared to how niche spinning is and now weaving and tablet weaving… – I promise I did not specifically set out to string together the most niche leisure activities in the world!

This concludes this catch up with my adventures in weaving so far but not before I told you possibly the nicest aspect of learning how to weave which has been that my partner has been learning it with me! Their interests in the craft are not a blueprint of what attracts me to the craft but they are close enough that is has been fun to talk about our inspirations and struggles and feed of on each others love for the craft. It’s been so long ago since I was in a circle of crafters that I kind of forgot how fun it is to just sit next to each other both doing the same craft and talk about interesting weaving patterns or unique archaeological finds. I’m sure there will be more woven bands and rigid heddle weaving to come and we’ll see what else weaving brings me in the future.

Thanks for reading and see you all soon!

4 thoughts on “Adventures in Weaving

  1. Wauw, mooi geschreven de ontdekkingstocht betreffende het steeds verder komen van weven! Super dat je een nieuw weefraam tablet met toebehoren hebt gevonden. Leuk dat je ontdekt het zo leuk en inspirerend gevinden. Mooi ambacht. Fijn het stuk te lezen. Groet Margot

    1. Bedankt! Ja hebt er echt super veel plezier mee nu en de interesse is alleen maar groeiender! Haha, had ik een jaar geleden echt niet gedacht dat ik hier ook weer in zou vallen.

  2. Oh my,
    you are the most gifted and inspiring person I ‘know’ . The colours of your weaving are so beautiful together. So well done !!!
    I love your blog 🙂 Not only for your wonderful craftings , but also for the amazing , beautiful pictures of nature and animals.
    all the best to you and your loved ones
    (my english is not so good, please forgive, if there are any mistakes …)

    1. Thank you Caroline, that’s nice to hear, you are always so kind!

      I hope you’re having a great start to spring!

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