31 March 2012

First turn of the cloth beam

After 6" of weaving, it was time to make the first turn of the cloth beam. At first 6" was just an arbitrary marker, the goal I set for myself to weave before turning the beam. But then I looked at this.

Here you can see the buildup of fuzz on the shed rod. The warp is casting off fibers as it moves up and down in the shed rod lacing. Because this is a very nicely spun worsted yarn there are not a lot of loose fibers to shed, but it's still happening. Partly that's because of the way I beat. When I weave on the warp-weighted loom I don't actually "beat" the weft, I simply put the edge of the beater against the fell and press upward evenly until I feel that I am lifting the weight of the loom weights. Thus I make gravity and the loom weights work for me rather than expending all that whomp-whomp-whomp upward-beating energy that feels good to do but doesn't have as even and satisfactory a result--at least, not in my experience. YMMV. But my method does shift the front shed's worth of warp up and down slightly through its lacing, which encourages this slight fraying and build-up.

So it seems to me that it would be a good idea to turn the cloth beam rather frequently, in order to give each section of the warp threads as short a time as possible in that constraining position against the shed rod. Although I didn't take a photo of it, I also noticed some slight fuzz buildup on the heddles. I expect that frequent turning will save the warp threads from wear in that position also.

This is a shot of the warp after six inches had been woven but before any turning of the cloth beam had taken place.

This is how the warp looks after the first turning. It was a quarter-turn of the cloth beam (which is square in cross-section). Next time I think I'll try a half-turn.

One thing I have noticed about this project: there isn't a lot of fibery fluff building up under the loom the way there usually is when I weave on a warp-weighted loom. I think that's probably due, again, to the superior quality of this yarn. So far, the only thing we've had to vacuum out from under the loom has been cat hair. Mercifully, my cat is entirely disinterested in the enticingly dangled weights of this project, but somehow his hair gets under the loom anyway.

27 March 2012

The honeymoon is over

One can only weave so long before a warp breaks. Yesterday I had a selvedge break, and today a regular warp broke.

The selvedge telegraphed its intention by stretching over the course of a day or two until the weight was resting on the ground. I used a pair of Navajo warp singles yarns for each selvedge. It's more loosely spun than I like, but it was the best choice I had. So now I know it's going to be troublesome and I can keep an eye out for it. I may wind up having to put some more twist into it to keep its integrity. It is, however, not unspinning itself; those warp weights are remarkably good at staying in place. It probably has something to do with those flat sides that snuggle up against their neighbors.

The regular warp break was due to a rough spot in one of my wooden tools. It caught on one ply of a warp thread and stretched it until it broke. I tried splicing the warp back together, but there wasn't much to work with and so I wound up knotting in a repair section. Luckily, it's on the back of the chiton.

I shall have to work on smoothing that rough spot down before it eats any more warps.

The good news is, I have six inches of woven cloth. That's an eighth of the project. There's a tiny piece of me that never thought I'd get this far, so I'm pretty stoked.

The next task is to even out the warp spacing in the woven cloth before reeling some of it up onto the cloth beam. This is a surprisingly easy task, readily accomplished by the pointed end of just about any tool. (I like the bone needle best for this purpose.) I can even do it with my fingers in the areas near the selvedge. But even if I can't get the warp distributed as evenly as I'd like, I'm not going to worry. Irregularities are inevitable according to what I've read. Particularly, Martin Ciszuk talks about his experience with the occurrence of "denser and more open warp areas" in his reconstructed weaves, just as he says are found on archaeological and ethnographic examples.

24 March 2012

Starting to get the hang of this

There is a noticeable area of completed web visible on the loom now; I've done one-sixteenth of the length. Along the way I've started to develop some rhythms, some ergonomics, what I think of as "the dance." Every different weaving project has its own dance steps, although there are families of projects just as there are families of dance steps.

This weaving project is a little bit more stately and elaborate than some, more a pavane than The Hustle. I'm clocking one pair of wefts (a There and Back Again, if you will) every five minutes. There is a great deal faster and easier than Back Again!

But there is plenty of dance floor left upon which I may become more proficient at these steps, as I hope I will. My speed already seems blindingly fast compared to how I was doing the same things last week.

22 March 2012


I need a copy of an article in an issue of Bulletin du CIETA. Unfortunately, that back issue is out of print according to CIETA, so I can't just buy a copy. And there's not a library within several hundred miles that has a subscription.

*drums feet on floor helplessly*

Oh well, back to weaving.

21 March 2012

Spinning fates and the Song of the Loom

I really want to go to this:

Spinning Fates and the song of the Loom: the use of textiles, clothing and cloth production as metaphor, symbol and narrative device in Greek and Latin literature.

A one day round-table (June 1st) at the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Textile Research.

It's a bit far to go for a day-trip, though. Alas.

19 March 2012

That was painful

After weaving an inch's worth of picks (24), I took a close hard look at what I was getting. The last inch of warp at the left (dexter) selvedge was weighted twice as heavily as the rest of the warp. This was due to my seat-of-the-pants call that two inches of warp was an appropriate number of ends per warp weight.

However, the texture of the cloth at that more heavily weighted edge was completely different from, and preferable to, what I was getting elsewhere across the loom.

It was a hard decision, and I dithered for a couple of days before actually doing it. But I elected to untie and redistribute the weights across the entire warp. I didn't have enough extra loom weights to do the whole thing at 12 ends per weight, though. I did have enough to use an inch and a half (18 ends) per weight rather than the two inches (24 ends) that I had on the loom originally. So I've re-weighted the entire warp.

Now I'm working on beating that first "inch" of picks more tightly together, because it measures somewhat more than one inch in length. The heavily weighted area measured something less than an inch; I will also try to spread out the weft in that section a bit so the density is the same all the way across the warp. I am hoping I have found a happy medium that will give me a nice texture of (mostly) evenweave.

I'm also happy that the weights are distributed completely evenly across the warp now. Also, because it is more firmly stretched the warp makes a different and more clear sound now when I strum it. I feel much more optimistic about the project now.

Back to work!

12 March 2012

The dance begins

I've got almost an inch woven now and am tinkering with the process, the dance of it to see what I think works.

One thing I'm considering is tool use. I'm playing with a lot of different tools.

I have used a simple, blunt bone needle to help straighten out the areas where warp bunches together. That works really well, and it makes a pleasant sound that makes me think of the Homeric phrase of a warp "singing." But strumming the web between pairs of warp ends is laborious work, not something I expect should be part of the dance accompanying each pass of the weft. I am hoping that once the first couple of inches are woven there will be less of this kind of warp bunching.

On the other hand, the analyses I've seen of the period textiles indicate quite a lot of variation in thread count within a textile, with airier and more dense sections coexisting side by side. This isn't very surprising considering that the yarn I'm using, a 20/2, is at least double the thickness of many of the yarns from the extant textiles. My thread count and yarn size are not outside the historic range, but they are not representive of its finer end, nor even of its median. The yarns in the period textiles are so fine that they would have been even more likely to bunch than mine, I think. In fact, I'm guessing they would have had to be laced to the shed rod in groups rather than individually, just because there wouldn't be enough room on the shed rod for cross-lacing every single warp end on a warp with that high an epi (ends per inch) count.

I began by using my Anglo-Scandinavian pin beater but decided to stop doing that because it didn't match any evidence I'd seen for ancient Greek weaving. I usually use it more for weft placement than anything else, and my finger also works well for that task.

I have used my sword beater too. But it's a great hulking wooden broadsword that looks like the Norwegian whalebone sword beaters. It works wonders on twill webs. I've never found it as useful for tabby weaving, though; something shorter seems to work better for that. Also, as with the pin beater, I don't want to rely on it because it's not canonical.

So instead I'm using a flat wooden stick that is similar to the finds identified as beaters. The so-called beaters are narrow bone implements, not very long. I have a beautiful maple pick-up stick in about the right size range, although it lacks the hole drilled through one end that several of the bone implements have. I am not sure about the identity of those bone pieces as beaters; the beater shown in the Amasis lekythos is significantly longer than the proposed length of those bone beaters. Nevertheless, I'm willing to experiment with a tool of that size and shape to see what it tells me.

I'm also using a wooden comb. When I do tapestry weaving I usually use a light beater, and this wooden comb has been ideal for that purpose. I expect I'll be using it later when I get to the decorative bands portion of the chiton. Right now I'm using it to help me get a sense for how much tension and take-up I need in wefts. Using it is slow, but it's helping me learn a lot.

I expect that after two, maybe three inches of very laborious weaving I'll have evolved some sort of system that works and is reasonably paced. Right now progress is very slow indeed. Partly that's because the weaving has to fit around family life (in the dining room, which seems to be the center of the house), but partly it's simply because I haven't learned the dance. At any rate, I expected it and I'm not worried about it yet.

11 March 2012

As promised

Here is a photo of the whole loom. It's in a location that's a little tight, a narrow dining area, so it's hard to get far enough away from the loom to get a really good shot. But you can get an idea of how things look now. You can see I have the two heddle rods in use. (To give you some idea of scale: each of those rods is four feet long.) This arrangement is a little bit fiddly for one person to operate, and I'm going to have to keep an eye out for it. But so far it's working all right.

That white blob just above the heddle rod on the left side of the warp is the penion, the shuttle. It is a cedar stick (a cut-down arrow shaft) with a very large cop of yarn wound onto it. It is resting atop the string heddles between the two sheds of the web.

Here is a closer view of the penion. It is 24" long. I enjoyed sticking it into this spot because it made the loom look more like the ones on the Amasis lekythos.

The first four wefts are purple-dyed wool. They're the reason the shadow under the cloth beam looks so deep; that's actually part of the cloth you're seeing and not a shadow. I wanted them in there because there's a textile from the Kerameikos at Athens which has a tiny purple stripe right under the starting border. I didn't have any trouble selling this idea to ὁ πάτρων (Il Patron)! You can see the rest of the ball of purple wool on the ground under the loom; I haven't detached it yet.

That little dark spot at the center top of the first photo is a glass bead in the shape of an owl that I hung from the reinforcing bar (which is out of view at the top of the loom). You've heard of computer totems, the little toys and figurines people stick atop their computers and monitors? Bubo there is my loom totem.

06 March 2012

Unexpected progress!

Last night's meeting was cancelled so I had more time to work on heddles.

All the heddles are done, and the shed is clean!

I put in the first two shots of weft. Tomorrow I'll take a photo.

05 March 2012

Still slogging away....

Half the heddles are knit. I have a lot of obligations in the next 24 hours or so, so I'm not sure I'm going to get much more progress made before Wednesday. But I'm happy with my progress so far. The linen I chose to knit the heddles with is cooperating well, and the heddles are mostly very even. When you have to knit more than 800 heddles, you want a lot of consistency.

I am using the split heddle rod approach. Instead of one long heddle rod that goes across the whole six feet of warp, I'm using two, one on each half of the warp. I'm a little dubious about this approach since it's only a theoretical rather than a documentable approach. Still, it makes more sense than trying to operate a two-person sized warp and heddle rod all by myself without brackets, heddle rod supports, or anything else to hold the rod. From my experience weaving tabby on the Icelandic loom, though, I know it is possible to operate the heddle rod of a narrow warp one-handed while using the sword to secure the shed. I have tested and yes, I can move the current three-foot heddle rod one-handed. What a relief! I was afraid there'd be too much counterweight on the rod for it to be comfortable.

The fiddly part will be at the center of the warp, where the ends of the two heddle rods might overlap or bash one another. I'm solving that by making the dexter side's rod higher than the sinister side's rod.

Once the loom is entirely ready to weave, I'll post a full photo.

01 March 2012

Warp is weighted!

I have finished putting the weights on the warp -- all except for the selvedges, that is. Each selvedge is a pair of heavy single-ply wool yarns. I'm not sure they're strong enough to use a whole loomweight for each one, but I'm not sure what other choice makes sense. I want them to hang very straight and stiff so I can reduce the tendency to draw in while I'm weaving.

Here is one of my loomweights. They are terracotta, based on finds from the fourth century BCE in Macedonia.

And here is about half the warp, in the late afternoon sunshine. I opened the window to give more natural light for the photo, and the dramatic contrast made most of the photos useless. I kind of like this one, though.

Next up: heddle knitting!