Spinninglizzy's Weblog

Falling down the slippery fibre slope

Getting Back My Groove

I don’t move on easily. I am so linearly-minded that obstacles in my path often hamper my momentum and detract from any progress I might otherwise make. It’s difficult for me to cut my losses, give up on a project, or even step over it temporarily.

Three weaving projects in particular kept stalling me from tying on more enjoyable warps, until I decided to tackle them head-on this year.

The first project is Cynthia’s scarf. I had woven it off the Ashford RH (rigid heddle) loom she gave me, but at the time, didn’t have much experience twisting fringe. I thought of twisting fringe as excruciatingly slow and painful work. I was in a hurry to finish the scarf to give her at our get-together last year (September?) before she would be inaccessible for months while remodeling. At the last moment, I couldn’t make it work. The problem? I trimmed the fringe on one end of the scarf, twisted it, and knotted it. Then I measured the fringe on the other end of the scarf, twisted and knotted a few strands. Then I found that I had used the measurement of the twisted fringe to cut the untwisted side! The two sides with uneven fringe was difficult to face. I didn’t want to cut down the first twisted side, because I felt its length was perfect. When I tried twisted the fringe on the shorter, I couldn’t bear of cutting down the other side to match. That left me in a quandary for six months. Earlier this March, I finally decided to finish twisting the fringe, and leave the longer side as is. I guess I decided that if one side is perfect, it should be left alone. It doesn’t seem right to cut it down to match the imperfect shorter length side; the difference being about two inches. I’ve always thought of this as Cynthia’s scarf, and so now I’m not sure what to do with it. What have I learned from this? The old saying: “Measure twice, cut once.” And, don’t cut when you’re in a hurry. Also, fringe twisting a scarf is exponentially more time-consuming the night before you want to make a gift of it, but not that big of a deal when there is no deadline.

Problem project number two is some Lion Brand Fisherman’s wool that I put onto my Schacht RH loom more than 2 (!) years ago.

I meant to make a shibori scarf out of it, with the intention of entering it into some contest. But, I found the wool rather rough; and, after putting it on the loom, I promptly lost interest in it. The RH loom is Schacht’s non-folding one, mounted on their trestle floor stand. I’ve since acquired their 15″ Flip folding RH loom, but a dearth of table space meant I couldn’t do anything with it until the stand was made available for it. It would be too simple and logical to temporarily remove the non-folding RH loom and put it aside to use the stand, but — remember the linear thinking! With the project dormant so long, and the Flip languishing untouched for a year since I got it, it was time to “fish or cut bait“, or, in my case, “weave or cut warp”. It’s nearly unthinkable for me to cut off a warp, so I got down to the business of weaving it off.

It wasn’t the unpleasant or time-consuming chore I’d envisioned it would be; it just wasn’t a project I felt passionate about. Lesson learned: choose materials and projects that I’ll love and enjoy, not to impress others!

The last weaving obstacle: my three-heddle project on the Ashford Knitters Loom (AKL). This project has been untouched since last summer, and had been warped nearly two years ago. Even with the addition of doupe heddles and sticks (shortcuts so I do not have to mess with the different heddle position and manipulations), I find the weaving fiddly and tedious. Not only that, I wasn’t crazy about the pattern I had chosen, as it made this combination of yarn seemed very old-fashioned and fussy to me. 

When I took math classes as a student, I was taught the “brute force” method of solving problems. There are often elegant and concise ways to solve problems, but the brute force method is akin to getting a hammer and systematically smashing a large obstacle into smaller pieces, bit by bit. An example of this is solving anagrams. Say you have the letters: UVELA. Someone with the gift of decoding anagrams, might, after a bit of consideration, come up with VALUE. However, if you didn’t have any insight, one brute force algorithm you might employ is to note the letters in alphabetical order, and starting with “A”, look through the “A” section of an English dictionary for any matches using all the letters. If no matches occur, then take the next letter in order, and repeat for that letter. Slow, inefficient, and tedious it may be, but guaranteed to work. As Nike would say, “Just Do It”.

So, I did. It took three days of ignoring everything else to complete. The pattern was such that I could not relax while weaving, for any distractions from people, music, television, or my own breathing would make me forget which step I was on. I longed to be at the end of the warp with every pick I wove, but I kept at it. When I got to the last 12″ of warp, I found that I no longer had enough room to continue manipulating the heddles to follow the pattern.

Not wishing to waste any warp, I used only the first heddle up and down, which formed a kind of basketweave tabby. That gave me another 5″ of weaving, but what a difference!

It was enjoyable to weave, and I loved the way it looked! I felt heartsick to have used up so much handspun weft for a pattern that tended to obscure it, when it would shown to such great advantage with a simple plainweave. Well, rats.

I haven’t encountered any commercial yarn that has the same amazing bounce and density that you can find in handspun yarn. I did find that using this yarn for weft, which I had spun woolen and long-draw, created a very stretchy fabric. Interesting.

Plainweave Closeup

At least I learned a few things: Just because you can create four-shaft cloth on a rigid heddle doesn’t mean you should; it might not be fun. (This may have something to do with threading the heddles with the Xenakis technique, which is not intuitive.) Sometimes, less is a lot more, while more can be fussy and unexciting. Next time, I’ll try harder to find the simple, elegant solution, instead of bulldozing (brute forcing) my way through. Anyway, the loom is free again, and so am I!

(Imagine happy dance here.)


29 July 2011 Posted by | Weaving | , | 4 Comments

Ashford Knitters Loom, Third Time’s The Charm

My triple-heddle project on my 12″, AKL had been untouched for close to a year. I tried to work on it a few times, but stalled each time because I couldn’t remember how to manipulate the heddles properly. Because I dreaded having to re-read the Xenakis text (”The Xenakis Technique For The Construction Of Four Harness Textiles”, by Athanasios David Xenakis) again, the AKL stayed untouched in its carry bag until I put DS into camp last month. Because DS insisted I not leave him “alone” on the premises (even though he never saw me!), I had to bring something to work on for the 3 hours every day he was in camp.

To prepare myself, well before camp week, I gritted my teeth and pulled out the Xenakis text to read. Several times over. Then, I looked closely at the cloth I had started. I was dismayed to find that it resembled, but didn’t reproduce the pattern I was after. Reading Xenakis again, I discovered that I had been manipulating the heddles incorrectly. I unwove the foot-plus-long cloth I had already woven, and started over again.

I would love to say that I learned the proper heddle manipulations and soon set myself weaving merrily along again. That did not happen. The problem was that the heddle lifts and sequences were not intuitive to me. Some lifts required moving the third heddle up or down, then bringing the other heddles toward the fell line to emphasize a separation in threads, then picking up one set of the threads behind the first heddle, etc. That was very complicated! I struggled a bit, then decided to order “Weaving with Three Rigid Heddles”, by Rev. David B. McKinney, from eBay, where it’s sold under his eBay name, Silananda. I have heard that his book is very easy to read.

The book came very quickly, and was indeed very easy to comprehend. Alas, McKinney does not thread his heddles the same way Xenakis does, and so was no help to me on this current project. Xenakis threads his heddles so each heddle eye lifts either one or two “shaft” threads; whereas McKinney threads his heddles so the first heddle lifts “shaft 1” threads, the second heddle lifts “shaft 2” threads, and the last heddle lifts “shaft 3” threads. His threading is simple and intuitive, and makes weaving four-shaft textiles on a RH similar to weaving with a direct tie-up loom. However, because of the difference in threading, with my particular pattern, the Xenakis threading produces a sett of 16.7 epi, while the same pattern with the McKinney threading would be 12.5 epi. The setts would vary depending on the patterns chosen, but in general, the Xenakis threading allows for a tighter sett. When I use three rigid heddles again, I would chose the method of threading based upon the lifts I need to use. Only a few of the Xenakis lifts are complex, but it just happened that my particular choice of patterns required two of them. I wouldn’t automatically rule out using the Xenakis technique again, especially if a closer sett were desirable, but I’d prefer to stay away from the complex lifts.

There was nothing to do except to hunker down and take my medicine stoically. I decided to make things easier for myself by retrieving the doupe heddles I had taken off and use them in place of my two complicated lifts. I threaded two doupe heddle sets and used two doupe sticks to make those two lifts easier. Now my weaving could pick up speed and I could enjoy it again.

On the first day of camp, I brought my AKL loom stand, in pieces, in a Whole Foods grocery bag. Being completely OCD, I had protected all the pieces in bubble wrap, but felt it took too much time to wrap and unwrap. So, that evening, I dug out some scrap polar fleece fabric to sew some protector sleeves:

Then, I re-purposed a folding camp stool bag for toting the stand parts:

Compare the OLD pattern:

to the NEW one:

Perhaps the difference is very subtle, but it’s there, and that makes all the difference to me.

12 August 2010 Posted by | Weaving | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rigid Heddle: Weaving With Three Heddles

I’ve wanted to have a go at creating four-shaft textiles on a rigid-heddle loom ever since I brought home my Schacht rigid heddle more than a year ago.  As my Schacht (not a Flip) only accepts one heddle reed, it wasn’t until I got my 12″ Ashford Knitters Loom (AKL) that I’ve had the capability.

It took something like six readings of the first half of  “The Xenakis Technique For The Construction Of Four Harness Textiles”, by Athanasios David Xenakis, before I felt like I knew how to begin.  The first time I read through Xenakis’ book, I was completely befuddled and nearly abandoned the project.  At the second reading, I wondered if I were mentally deficient.  But, around the time of the fourth — or possibly fifith — reading, I began to understand the technique, which is actually very simple.  A hint: if you are feeling confused by the reading, it’s perfectly OK to skip past some of that and go directly to the description of the threading, if that is all you want.   The book is very comprehensive, and most questions I had were anticipated and answered.  On the subject of number of identical heddle reeds, Xenakis recommends three, although he maintains one could get by with two and a rod with doupe heddles.  But, beyond the assertion that doupe heddles would work, Xenakis does not give any details how to use them.

Because my heddle blocks could only accept two reeds, I had my LWS (local weaving store) special-order me two, in the finest size available, 12.5-dents per inch.  My reasoning was: three reeds may not fold compactly in the loom, I might have trouble with standing the third heddle up/down/at rest, and it would be easy enough to try with the doupe heddles first.

With that in mind, I wrapped some thin crochet cotton around the widest sword I had:


Mark one side of the threads as a reminder where to fold the string:


Fold the string at the marked points, and make a knot, leaving a loop large enough to fit over a heddle rod.


Please refer to Xenakis’ book for how to thread the loom (the time it would take me to write it up is time away from weaving!).  Ashford puts out a pdf file that details how to thread two heddles here, as does Schacht here.  Again, the reason I’ve gone with the techniques in Xenakis’ book is because I wanted to be able to methodically translate, set up, and weave some of the many drafts found in books of four-shaft patterns.

To make things easier on myself, I placed painter’s tape along the tops of the heddles, and marked off measurements; by ticking off the areas I had already threaded, it was easy to keep track of where I was, should be, or needed to go next.  Colour-coding a threading sequence also helped me to keep my place.

A view of the threading from the back with the doupe heddles at the bottom:


As to threading hooks, I used at various stages a regular hook, an ultra-fine spinning wheel orifice hook, and a long 11″ weaving hook.

I chose “Rose Path Project No. 1”, threading #1, treadle sequence IX, by Bertha Frey in Marguerite Porter Davison’s “A Handweaver’s Pattern Book”.  After all bouts were tied and adjusted, I wove a header, using compressed plastic bags for filler.


Unfortunately, I could not manipulate the doupe stick with doupes very well; the resulting sheds were not separating cleanly.  Then, I found that difficult as it was to create a shed by pulling up on the doupe stick, I had no easy way to create the reverse shed by pulling down on the doupe stick.  With the addition of two heddles in front to manipulate in tandem, it was too much for me to handle.  Perhaps it would be easier on a different loom than the AKL;   I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used the doupe heddles successfully.

Fortunately, I knew that my LWS had ordered extras of my heddle reeds when I placed my order, so I only needed enough patience to wait for the next morning for the third heddle, rather than the two weeks I had waited for the second.  Three heddles threaded:

The third heddle is a huge improvement over the doupe stick and heddles!  The difference in the cleanness of the shed, and ease of manipulation, is more than worth the price of the third heddle.

Did you note the angle at which the back beam sits up from the table?  That produces a better shed, and it is engineered by design with the addition of an L-shaped brackets (blue, shown below) on each side of the loom:

Because the heddle block only accommodates two heddles, there is nowhere to rest the third heddle.  Left to its own devices, it weighs down on the threads, creating an unwanted shed in “rest” position.  To remedy this, I propped up the third heddle with a foam bar inserted over the cross brace.  It’s nothing fancy, really, just some old white foam computer packing, cut into a strip about an inch thick, and just long enough so it holds itself in place by friction.

With the third heddle resting on it, the threads stay in neutral position.

I keep the foam bar in place at all times, even when the loom is folded with all three heddles sandwiched inside:

I had chosen some of my hand-spun wool for the weft, but when I took a last look before weaving, it needed some livening colour.

I pulled out my Mother MacKenzie Miracle (acid) dye kit, which was in liquid stock solution made before Thanksgiving 2008.

A few splashes of magenta, a heat-set in a crock pot, and the results:

Unfortunately, still boring.  More liveneing needed; another day’s wait to go back to the dyepot to add some chartreuse:

I had chosen my pattern with ease of threading and “treadling” in mind.  As a first project, I did not want to be bogged down with complicated and long treadling sequences, and so, mine has only two sequences, each repeating two tie-downs.  Really, only four positions of heddles to remember, and very easy ones at that.   The cloth in progress:

In the future, I will likely continue to choose patterns with simple treadle sequences, but will also likely try more complicated threadings.  It’s so tempting to finish off this scarf quickly at home, but I’ve purposely held off from doing so; I want to keep the AKL for use on the go, for something fun to do while waiting to pick up my son.    Now both of us are waiting for classes to start up again.

2 January 2010 Posted by | Weaving | , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Ashford Knitters Loom

The Ashford Knitters loom is one that was not on my list of rigid-heddle considerations.  I had seen pictures of the blue plasticky ratchets and pawls, seen that the wood was not maple, knew that the marketing was aimed at luring knitters down the weaving slope (I had already slipped, so what was the point?) and never gave it another thought.

However, while seriously considering a Schacht 15″ Flip loom, several things happened almost simultaneously:

  • I’ve been chauffering my son to more classes, and wanted slim loom I could carry around easily
  • I saw a 15″ Flip in person, so felt how heavy and bulky it was
  • I came across a fantastic deal on a 12″ Knitters loom that had only been used once, and
  • I discovered that Ashford recently released a second-heddle upgrade kit.

My loom came with all the original accessories, plus a carrying tote.


The tote bag is very well designed; heavy-duty and well-padded, with long shoulder straps (not adjustable, though), and handy side pockets with some sewn thoughtfully narrower to accomodate long thin objects you might need to have on hand, like swords and stick shuttles.  The bag is closely fitted to the loom, with enough room for a book (or two) and some yarn.  I did find that the 7.5-dent heddle it came with to measure 11-5/8″ in length, and can’t help feeling a tad cheated of the last 3/8″.  I suppose 12″ sounds better than 11″ for marketing purposes.  While I waited for the second heddle upgrade kit and additional heddle reeds I ordered to arrive, I put on a first warp.


The warp is a scant three yards of thick Lily Sugar ‘N Cream cotton, with more of the same for weft.  It turned out to be too much of this type of yarn; a brace across the loom close to the cloth beam limits how much I could wind on.  I had to jam in the last foot or so of cloth.  This is the loom pictured from its underside, showing the cloth crammed into the brace:


I used the shoestring method of speed-warping by Nadine Sanders,The Singing Weaver, which contributes a little bulk to the front.  The brace on the other end is farther away from the back beam, so the cloth beam will be the limiting factor to the length of the warp.  Thinking “scarf”, rather than “valance” is probably an good idea for warp length on this loom. 

One thing I did not like were the blue plastic ties attached to the front and back beams.  They are very springy, and push the attached stick away from the beam, making the warping process difficult.


However, when I tried to substitute texsolv, I found I could not thread it in the holes of both the beam and the stick.  When I attempted a work-around with a metal rod inserted at the beam to hold the texsolv, I found the texsolv added substantial bulk when winding up the stick. 


When I tried to exchange the stick for a second rod, I discovered that the combination of the stick and plastic ties would wind around the beam until the stick sat perfectly on the flat side of the beam.  So, I reverted to the plastic ties, which turn out to be a marvel of thought and economy of space.  In fact, as I started to use this loom, again and again I marvelled at the insightful engineering design at every turn.

As to the springyness of the blue plastic ties, I used a bit of blue painter’s tape to tame them.


I wanted to reduce the bulk of shoestrings in the front, so attached a metal rod to the wood stick with texsolv.  I would thread the uncut ends of warp onto the rod to save myself the time of tying on and the bulk of knots — even though that would entail winding onto the front beam, threading the heddles, tying on at the back, and the extra step of re-winding the warp to the back beam.


Another example of the Ashford engineering thoughtfullness can be seen in the pair of blue, plastic, L-shaped pieces, found on both sides of the loom just behind the heddle blocks.  One is pictured below with the single and double heddle blocks.


These two L-shaped pieces prop the back beam so it’s up at an angle from the rest of the loom, and so improves the shed. 

It was quick to install the second heddles on the Knitters Loom; a few taps with a hammer to remove the bolts from the original heddle blocks and put them into the dual ones was all it took.

The loom is easy to fold with the weaving in place; put the weft-filled shuttle between a shed to lock it in place, put the heddle in the “travel” position (the lowest notch in the heddle block), then fold.  I found the loom to be sturdy, extremely portable, and just plain loveable — I’m crazy about this loom!  It’s lightweight, without being a lightweight, if you know what I mean.

Update, 2010 2 January:  Using multiple heddles on the Ashford Knitters Loom

11 June 2009 Posted by | Weaving | , , , | 14 Comments