22 May 2013

Audiovisual Aid


For years I've wanted to take and post videos of my work with the warp-weighted loom.  Until now, my access to technology required a second person to act as tripod and operator, and that hasn't worked out very well given the relationship that needed to exist between the camera and the work.  But today, thanks to advances in technology, I was able to take my first videos all by my ownself using Google Glass.

Most of what I took today isn't good enough to be postable.  The equipment limits each video to ten seconds in length, and I have to learn where to look and how close to get.  I'll be taking a lot more as I learn about how to take effective ones.

Here is a sample of the kind of videos that will come along as I am able to make them.  This particular video shows part of the dance that occurs in the Back Again (or Return) row of weaving.  After putting the weft through it, the countershed is dropped and the initial resting shed must reassert itself.  I strum the warp all the way across to help the threads shake themselves loose of one another.  This process makes two kinds of noises, the strumming sound and the clink of the loom weights as they rock and settle back into their resting position.



Stay tuned for more videos, hopefully within the week.

ETA:  Technical difficulties solved.

#throughglass

21 May 2013

Baby Steps

Progress! The woven section measures just about exactly half its eventual length.

I only had to repair three threads this time. My speed is also improving as the nuances of the dance return to my working memory. But my stamina is down after so little appropriate exercise. I think I'm going to have brief weaving sessions for a while, just to build up my endurance again. I also need to set up my listening station again so I can have music while I weave. Singing along to something I love is the quickest way I know to get through a lot of physical work.

Almost every thread I've had to repair has been in the center of the web, in that problem area right where the two heddle rods abut. (I think there has been only one exception, a thread that caught by misadventure on a rough spot on the weaving sword.) This afternoon I thought longingly of what I could do if I were only weaving a cloak or a plain peplos rather than a garment with inwoven bands. After I took the piece off the loom, I'd stitch a false seam down that middle inch of problem warp and no one would be the wiser!

Now I'm going to go off and think pleasant math-y thoughts about yarn and dyestuffs and mordants. I was going to do that yesterday, but my scale wasn't working so I couldn't come up with any hard numbers. Now that the scale works, it's time to plot the dyeing phase of the project.

20 May 2013

Refusing to quit

After my last post I went off and looked over my notes to make sure I was remembering the dance properly. I wasn't, and it's a good thing I checked. But then the first time I tried to weave again another thread broke.

I admit it: I walked away again.

Ever since then I've been trying to think analytically about the project. Why is it so hard for me to just get back in there, fix the broken threads, and go back to weaving?

Some of my reluctance comes from the general lack of energy I've had to devote to anything other than interpersonal activity with my family this year. We really have faced unprecedented challenges. All right, acknowledge and move on. What else?

Partly the quality control geek inside me is having conniptions at all the repairs I'm having to do. After all this effort and expense, she says, what am I going to have to show for it? If I'm lucky, I'll have an indifferently made piece that is proof of concept rather than art. The quality control geek is never satisfied with imperfect work; I spend a lot of time squelching her so I can hear the muse a little more clearly. Lately I haven't had enough energy to squelch her, and so I was stuck in a bad place where the work just seemed like it was a case of diminishing returns.

But then the other night ὁ πάτρων (Il Patron) came for a visit. He wasn't there to visit the loom; it was purely a social call, and we all had a really good time watching "Jason and the Argonauts" in memory of Ray Harryhausen. Still, at one point he asked about my progress. Then I watched him walk over to it and gently touch the web. He looked at it with this combination of wonder and longing in his eyes. That right there, that is my antidote to the voice of the inner quality control geek. I had forgotten about the magic in this undertaking, and he reminded me about it without saying anything. OK, great; I'm over the hump of mid-project dejection. What else?

Well, after I got past the "this project sucks" moment, there were really only three other problems I could articulate. They all have to do with the tapestry woven portion of the project.

All my experience with tapestry weaving up to this point has been with small pieces. The piece on my tapestry loom right now, which is half done, is only about 6.5"x13". While I've become very comfortable estimating how much dyed weft I'll need for a project of that size or smaller, I really haven't even been able to face the fact that I have no clue how much dyed weft I'll need for the chiton band. Yesterday, though, an answer came to me: I will apply my mad math skillz!

The piece currently on my tapestry loom required me to dye four one-ounce skeins of weft. The weft I am using is a known quantity, and I've been working with it for years. Since I am more or less at the halfway point in that tapestry right now, all I have to do is weigh the unused balls of weft to find out (roughly) how much weft I've used so far. If I double that, I'll have how much weft is going to be required for the whole piece, i.e., 169 square inches of tapestry. Now, since I already ascertained that the tapestry section of the chiton will be at approximately the same sett as the other tapestry project, I just need to apply that math. I am planning for a band that goes from selvedge to selvedge and will be about 8" long, so I estimate that to be about 585 square inches of tapestry. That means I'll need about three and a half times as much weft for the chiton project as I do for the smaller piece. (Call it four, insists my inner quality control geek.)

Earlier today I went into the dining room to sit down at the table with some coffee and calculate these numbers. I was all excited about getting to do some good geeky textile math. But when I got there, the loom was staring at me forlornly. Was I going to have fun without it, right in front of it? So I decided to take my desire to do this math, to solve this problem, and let the doing of it be my reward for solving the prior problem of the broken warp thread.

Remember that broken thread? I mentioned it at the top of the entry. I fixed it this morning. And then I fixed six more that broke after it. I had to re-knit a heddle and unweave two passes too. But I finally got it all squared away. I wove two passes, a there-and-back-again, without anything breaking. It even looks pretty good considering how much the warp has been stressed lately.

Then I came in here to blog about my progress, which led sneakily to my doing the math live, in real time as I blogged about why it had been a problem. (I suppose that makes this a meta post too.) But I've still got two more points to make.

Another thing that worried me was dyestuffs. I knew I would be using two dyestuffs, one of which is in limited supply because I grew it myself. Yesterday I went looking for dyestuffs in the projects cabinet, the place where we keep all the weird raw materials: jet, soapstone, bone, beeswax, lamp black, calcium carbonate, dried herbs, oils, dyestuffs, that kind of stuff. I found plenty enough alum and dyestuffs to complete a pretty big project. And now that I know the actual size of the yarn pile I'll need to dye, I can relax. I have about twice as much dyestuff available as I will need for this project.

Now I finally have enough information that I can see my path forward, not just on the plain weaving but on the tapestry part. There's a lot of busy work involved in getting the yarn dyed. I can use busy work to progress with the project even on those days when I can't bring myself to weave. But hopefully I've solved enough of the technical problems that the weaving process isn't going to be difficult until I get to the beginning of the tapestry section.

Mustn't think about that yet, though. That's the last problem, the only thing I haven't even got a provisional solution for yet. Maybe I'll find a way to get ahold of the article I need to help me solve the riddle of the transition section.

25 April 2013

Fall back and regroup

I'm back, baby!

Last May I had my first medium-sized problem with the project. It had been a growing problem for a while, but I was slow to put the pieces together to recognize what the real problem was. About the time I figured it out, and figured out how to fix it, Life intervened. In this past year of illness, family obligations, and deaths, I have been slow to return to my loom. But it's really hard to ignore a warped 7' loom in your dining room forever, and sooner or later I knew I'd have enough je ne sais quoi to deal with it. So I'm back.

The trouble had to do with those damned heddle rods.

I knitted the heddles back when I still had the warp weighted with one weight per inch, 12 ends per weight. Redistributing the weights so that they weighted an inch and a half of warp, 18 ends, was the right choice for the project, but it left me with a difficulty that I was slow to identify.

Many of the warp threads in the center of the project had broken and needed to be replaced. All of them came from the warp bundles attached to a particular pair of warp weights, the centermost front and the centermost back weight. I finally realized an Important Principle that I will have to remember for the next project. If you're going to use a pair of heddle rods instead of a single one (which I actually doubt I would do again, but that's another issue), it is important that the division of the warp between the two heddle rods occur at the same point as a division between warp bundles. Otherwise you'll get a mess that looks like this.

When I first warped, I followed the Important Principle. Somehow, though, when I re-weighted the warp I failed to realize how important the Important Principle really is! But I understand now. I have successfully repaired the broken warps, re-divided my warp, undone some heddles from the sinister heddle rod and re-knitted them onto the dexter heddle rod. Here's a photo of the re-knitted center of the warp, manipulated a bit so you can see clearly how clean the division is between the sides.


Notice that all the heddles on the upper (dexter) rod control threads on the left side of the central divide, which matches the division between the warp bundles on the fixed shed rod at the bottom of the photo. All the heddles on the lower (sinister) rod control the threads on the right side. I will no longer have the problem of a warp bundle whose strands are controlled partly by one heddle rod and partly by the other. I feel like an idiot that it took me so long to figure that out!

When the piece is finished and off the loom, there will be a lengthy period of repair weaving as I work out how to handle and weave in all those broken warps. Fortunately, that won't be nearly as challenging as the rectification process I just finished.

I think I am almost ready to recommence weaving. The next thing I need to do is read back in my entries and remind myself of what I'd worked out about the dance of it. Also, I'll need to move the piece of dining room furniture I recently inherited that currently stands right about where I did while I was weaving. But I feel greatly relieved that I have finally managed to fix the problem looming over my dining room. It's definitely worth the backache it gave me.

29 May 2012

Weighty matter

Another 6" woven, another half-turn of the cloth beam.

For the first time, I'm seeing a bit of wear on the warp yarns in the area where they are lashed to the shed rod. When the beam is turned and those points rise farther up the warp, I can clearly see a zone of slight fuzziness extending all across the warp surface. It's nothing to worry about, though, just the validation of my theory that frequent short advances are the best way to keep the fuzz factor down. Perhaps next time I shall advance after a shorter length of weaving. Since each half-turn of the cloth beam doesn't take up the whole 6" I have woven, I have a little extra web to take up anyway.

It's also time to lengthen the warp now. I've only done about ten weights' worth of lengthening so far, but I should easily be able to accomplish the rest tomorrow.

Here is one of those points at which I appreciate my tendency to cultivate repeatability in my movements. (Some would call it obsession or compulsion; I prefer to think of it as consistency!) Because of the way I chained the excess warp, I can maintain my same approximate weight arrangement by undoing the same number of chain loops in each warp hank. So far that's worked out really well, although I think I miscounted on one hank because the weight hangs lower in comparison to its neighbors than it did before I lengthened the warp. That will probably bother me sufficiently tomorrow, in the bright light of day, than it did around sunset today. I will likely undo that one and fix it.

But for the most part, warp lengthening is an automatic practice with a high repeatability factor. That means I can do it while there is pretty much any kind of background distraction: spouse, offspring, visitors, audiovisual media, it's all good. Perhaps I will be sociable tomorrow!

23 May 2012

The dance continues

(Warning: this one is very geeky.)

The piece is more than 25% woven now; last night we turned the cloth beam again. Another turn and it will be time to unchain and lengthen the warp.

Draw-in is now visible and obvious, since the recently woven web is now wound over a layer of previously woven web. It's about 1" narrower at each side now. I'm not worried about this from a construction viewpoint, because I figured in a 10% draw-in when I was making calculations. But it does mean the top corners of the chiton will have a slightly trapezoidal effect. Hopefully nobody will be looking at the top edge anyway.

During this recent period when I wasn't weaving on a regular basis, something happened to my understanding of the dance. I've now hit on a sequence that is a great deal faster than the previous ones I tried. I've just about doubled my most recently clocked speed for a "there and back again" pass. Now it only takes two and a half minutes rather than five.

Here's what I'm currently doing. I wrap the left selvedge, then put the penion through the natural shed. I use the comb to loosely beat the weft into place, still on the open shed. Then I wrap the right selvedge, and here's where it gets a little tricky. With my left hand I pull and hold the sinister (rightmost) shed rod. I place the penion on the natural shelf formed by the heddles. With my right hand I take the weaving sword and draw it through the countershed, clearing any sticky yarns. Then I put the sword under my left arm, pick up the penion, and put it through the countershed. I drop the first shed rod, move to my left, and repeat the process with the second shed rod. Then I move back to the sinister edge of the warp, drawing the tip of the sword across the threads as I go as if I were using a pin beater. This helps the countershed fall back into place so the original, natural shed is clear again.

I beat in sequence from the sinister selvedge. Holding the handle of the sword in my right hand, I put the blade in the natural shed at about a 45 degree angle to the fell, with the hilt nearest the fell at the selvedge edge. Then I lever the point of the sword upward with my left hand. When the flat of the sword meets the fell, I push up gently, just until I feel the weights moving. Then I step to my left and repeat the process. It takes from four to six such movements to cross the entire warp, depending on how the weft thread lies.

You'll notice here that in both passes I am beating from the attached toward the free end of the weft. This is a trick I learned while weaving rutevev tapestries. I usually use my free hand to adjust the weft tension while I beat in this fashion. Managing the tension in this fashion helps me produce cleaner, straighter selvedges with less draw-in than any other method I've tried. Beating this way adds some walking to the process, because it means I have to cross the loom (from dexter to sinister) twice: once after passing the second weft and again after I've beaten to leave the sword at the sinister end of the loom. However, the speed I gain by not having to manipulate the sheds as much more than makes up for it.

Besides, the weavers of the Classical literature all walked up and down at their looms. Next I should work on being able to sing as I go.

22 May 2012

1 + 1 = Too Long Away

I had a technical problem along about the time that family obligations spiked, which led to me eyeing but not touching the loom for a while. I'm back now.

The technical problem I experienced involved those selvedge yarns. While I had no trouble with their unspinning themselves, they did nevertheless loosen. The Navajo warp is so loosely spun that it slowly lengthened and eventually pulled apart. After I'd mended a selvedge thread for the third time, I decided to replace rather than repair.

First I needed a good replacement yarn. I found something at the local yarn shop that would serve: Kraemer Natural Skeins Eileen, a DK-weight merino yarn. It is tightly three-plied, soft but not at all delicate, and the appropriate off-white color of undyed wool. (After this project is over, I'll come up with some interesting way to use the rest of it; it's not a bad weight for nålebinding.) Instead of the two ends of Navajo warp per selvedge, I'm using two ends of this yarn per selvedge.

The second challenge was to replace the selvedge yarn. Using a tapestry needle, I tried threading one end up through the woven selvedges to parallel the Navajo yarn. The selvedges are in a wrapped technique (two additional turns of yarn between each pick), which means I had a lot of tiny weft loops through which to stick the needle. Standing on my little wooden stool and doing that was such fiddly work that I gave it up after an inch's worth. Instead, I anchored the new selvedge yarn around the warp beam, leaving a generous unworked end at the top. Then I weighted the new selvedges, put them where they belonged, and set the loom to rights.

When I remove the web from the loom, the first thing I will do is, as they say in the weaving magazines, "correct the errors." I'll start by threading that unworked end of each new selvedge yarn through the weft loops in a way that does not involve me teetering on a stool with arms outstretched leaning forward against thin air. (Tables are a grand human invention, and I wonder that we fiber folk do not make more use of them than we do.) Then I'll remove the vestiges of the old selvedge yarns. Then I'll fix any warp threads that have had to be repaired.

Oh yes, warp repairs. So far three warp yarns have broken. They all belong to one weight hanging at the back of the loom, i.e., they all come from the heddled back layer rather than the laced front layer. (I expected that broken warps would occur with the laced layer, which is secured firmly at a fixed point rather than movable, but so far that layer has held up beautifully.) The weight in question comes from the central point of the warp, the area where the two shed sticks overlap, the area I have to baby along with every change of shed. This area is subjected to more movement, stress, and displacement than the rest of the warp combined; it's not surprising that even this really high quality warp yarn is showing signs of wear. Fortunately, I have some experience fixing broken warps on my horizontal loom. The same principle applies here, so I'm not sweating it. If warps continue to break in that area, though, it could become a problem.

With about a foot of weaving done, I have to say that I'm not entirely convinced about the theory of using two short shed rods rather than one long one on a wide warp. My experience so far suggests it's more of a hassle than otherwise. The central two inches of the warp display a much looser sett than the rest of the warp, which is not surprising given how much more manipulation it undergoes than the rest of the warp does. Since I'll be working in that area to rectify the broken warps, maybe I'll also be able to ease the sett a little closer, drawing from the surrounding area where the sett is (naturally) a little tighter.

On the other hand, perhaps if both the rods were pulled at the same time, as by two weavers working side by side, it might be a fine solution. But for one weaver working alone at a wide warp, I'm just not sure this is the way to do it. But then, that was the whole point of this project, wasn't it? I'm looking for proof (or not) of concepts.