Spinninglizzy's Weblog

Falling down the slippery fibre slope

What I Learned In Weaving Class

Yesterday, I took my second weaving class taught by Syne Mitchell. One benefit of taking a class is that it re-kindles the desire to get weaving again.

The class topic was shadow weave on 2-, 4-, and 8-shaft looms, using Marian Powell’s book as a reference.

I deliberately ignored Syne’s pre-class advice to use 10/2 perle cotton, or something relatively smooth as warp, although coincidentally, I did splurge on some recently at the Weaving Works’ Mother’s Day sale.

Instead, I planned to use some handspun-like yarn I had purchased on a Craigslist buy.

The woman who sold it to me thought it was wool and cotton. Until I dragged it out for this class, I hadn’t inspected it any closer to think differently.  It was certainly irregular, bumpy, and shed cotton fluff everywhere.  Now, a burn test indicated nylon rather than wool. Not a problem, I thought, as I have experienced that nylon dyes brilliantly with acid dyes.  So I was stingy with dye amounts, and found my dye bath completely exhausted, with the cotton stained and the “nylon” relatively unchanged. Alas, I mis-read the burn test signs as nylon, rather than acrylic. After waiting four days for the yarn to dry to a shade lighter than optimal for the shadow weave contrast, (and knowing that the cotton was probably only stained and not colour-fast), I still decided to go ahead with yarn.

I have not recently dressed a loom, and I found my confidence foundering at every step, from winding the warp to beaming the warp on. I suspect that the acrylic singles drifted a bit in places, adding to the irregularity of the warp ends. It took me a week of snatched hours, ending only the night before the class, to have my loom prepared. It was enough to help me decide that this would be the last time I work with second-rate yarn.

Syne took one look at my warp, politely deemed it “interesting”, and asked me why I chose it. I told her that I didn’t feel experienced enough as a weaver to break out the quality yarns. She let me continue to struggle with it, and its uneven tensioning, for close to six hours before I miserably admitted defeat, and that I loathed this warp, having now seen it in all its ugliness. Ugly? It would be a kindness to call it that, for this is Ugly’s evil step-sister, in comparison to which Ugly would be declared a beauty queen.

Oh why, oh why, did I not see this before… before spending so many hours putting it on my loom?! Well, there was a part of me which did not want to “waste” good yarn on a pattern gamp that might have no other use afterwards. I do not have the skills to magically piece together scraps of fabric into one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Of course, I failed to anticipate how much time and effort I would waste and how much education I might have gained. I looked around at my classmates’ projects, and thought how much I might have enjoyed a piece such as theirs just to look at, while I wouldn’t be able to use mine for wiping off my boots without irritation.

Syne asked me if my house were full of ugly yarn, and if she needed to come over to stage an intervention to throw it all out. She remembered that at last year’s class, I had problems with yarn as well. (I am still thinking that one through, and haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it yet.) She said that she would bring over some good yarn for me to work with, just so I would know how it felt to weave it, but I told her “No, I have bins and bins full of good yarn. I’m just not not good enough to weave with it! And, after this current warp, I’m even unsure about my ability to beam on properly!” Syne picked up my walnut, Bluster Bay end-feed shuttle and said “This deserves to be weaving with the good stuff.” She also pointed out that if I wanted to weave cloth as I have been professing, then I needed to practise weaving cloth, and the only reason I should weave with strange yarn would be if I wanted to become good at weaving with that. (Shudder.)

I had brought the 10/2 perle cotton along with me, and told Syne that although I had purchased them on sale, they were the most money I had ever spent on weaving yarns, and were the only ones I had purchased that were not second-hand. (I did not tell her that I didn’t think I would be ready to use them for at least another year!) Syne picked them up and said “See these? Lunatic Fringe will continue making these for years, so you don’t need to be afraid of never having these again.” She said that when she started first started weaving, she also got a lot of yarn deals, but eventually decided it just wasn’t worth the time. She gave away a lot of it, and found the experience “very freeing”. Indicating my perle cotton, she asked me to pick two “that makes your heart sing”, and urged me to immediately pick a pattern and wind a warp. She was going to see me through this, and declared that I would have to bring my loom to her house to complete the project.

I looked through Marian Powell’s book, but suddenly, the book of 1000+ patterns which had so many beckoning so promisingly only an hour earlier now made me paralysed with fear. I couldn’t think straight. What if I didn’t pick the best pattern for my colours? Would this pattern make me look fat? What if I the two colours I chose became something horrible when woven? What if things go completely awry, the same way things had gone with this class project?

Deep. Breath. I decided that, with my misguided sense of frugality, I had already hit rock bottom with my acrylic fiasco, and any other direction would be an improvement. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to try.


16 May 2010 - Posted by | Weaving


  1. Ah….these are hard lessons, but many of us have been there. A good analogy would be trying to learn to play piano on an instrument that is severely out of tune. How will you ever know how the melody is supposed to sound?

    Although the initial outlay for good weaving yarns feels expensive, the yarn does go a long way in weaving.

    Trust Syne on this. I hope you’ll post about that next warp.

    Comment by Valerie | 17 May 2010 | Reply

  2. What an adventure. Can we call her Saint Syne?

    I am sorry about your ugly warp. I just threw out some leftover yardsaling-aunt-gift poorly handspun cotton and it made *my* heart sing. Plus I needed space for all that second hand linen.

    I thought about all this recently when my husband took a painted illustration class that introduced guache paint, which is rather hard to learn to use. The instructor insisted that everyone buy one of the better brands of guaches, and described how hard it was to paint with the cheaper ones. I told my granny (who paints) about it, and she agreed wholeheartedly. She said HER college art professor told her that the only people who can afford to use lower-quality art supplies are the experts. Only they have the skills to work around things like gritty pigment. Beginners should always have the very best, since they need all the help they can get just learning the mechanics of the craft.

    It’s okay if you pick the wrong pattern. It’s even okay if you weave it up. It’s *even* okay if its a dog when its done. I need to remind myself of stuff like this all the time.

    Comment by trapunto | 17 May 2010 | Reply

  3. It’s a lesson that is true in most media, and I’ve done the same thing many times. There have been those jars of “good” paint that I was afraid to use, until I really needed them, and by then they were dried up and had to be tossed. Fabrics too beautiful to use when I purchased them, but later out of date, and I wondered “what was I thinking?” The proper tools and supplies will make for a nicer project and enjoyable time making it, even if it is a sample.

    Comment by LynnM | 18 May 2010 | Reply

  4. I have to agree with Syne…you’ll never be happy weaving if you don’t use a good quality product. A poor yarn choice will almost always hide good weaving and great yarn will make even mistakes look wonderful. I’ve got a few lovely silk mistakes that I wear all the time. No one notices the wonky selvedges, they just see the sheen and colour of the fine lustrous threads!

    Comment by Lynnette | 24 June 2010 | Reply

  5. Thank You for the encouraging comments! They’ve been instrumental in boosting my courage and reminding me to keep trying, even though I’m sure I haven’t committed my last weaving mistake. Thank You for being out there, and for the inspiration I get from reading your blogs!

    Comment by SpinningLizzy | 10 July 2010 | Reply

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