Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New loom!

After a nice Christmas break away, we picked up the new loom on the way home. It took a little bit more fiddling than I expected to fit it into the van, but that was mostly because we already had a wood lathe and workbench in there (yes, this was the Christmas of Large Toys). After clicking the 'Buy' button, I had had a few second thoughts - what if it turned out to be a mistake (for one reason or another). I spent the last couple of days clearing out the loom corner, and evicting the table, and stacks of fabric and junk. And then this evening I started to build the loom.

It is a 48" David Thorpe 8 shaft Countermarche loom with a second back beam, which looks like a much more serious piece of machinery than my mother's small jack loom. From a bit of hunting online I get the impression that it is very similar in design to a Glimakra, but built in NZ. The ad had said it was 6 years old (which I doubted even at the time), but I can categorically say that it is at least 20 years old, although probably not much more. There is a letter to the original owner from 1988 answering some setup questions, and the phone number on the plate on the side of the loom only has three digits...

From carrying the pieces in from the garage to getting everything attached that should be took about 4 hours (although there was a dinner break in the middle of that). It appears that it is possible to assemble the loom singlehanded, although it is a bit interesting to start with - trying to balance crossbeams on shoulders and things to get the second side on...

It's a very solid loom, and I mostly enjoyed the process of assembling it. It would have been a bit easier to do the first part with a bit of help (see previous paragraph), but I'm nothing if not stubborn. It would also have been more fun if it was a bit cooler (got up to 28°C today - probably not too hot by many standards, but still far too hot for me to be comfortable).

I still need to adjust all the lengths of everything, and really come to terms with how a countermarche works, but I got through far more of the building than I expected to (aided by finding some instructions, even if it was only a single A4 sheet). I'm guessing that the previous owner never actually used all the shafts, so the back four were missing some of the strings. I've replaced them with other bits, but I don't know what I'll run short of later... I think having to assemble the back four shafts was probably useful for getting a better idea of how it works.

And just as a bonus, with the way it's constructed it looks like it shouldn't be too hard to upgrade to having more shafts. Getting too many more pedals in could be interesting, but there is physically room in the frame for at least 8 more shafts should I decide I want to go that way.

The disadvantage of this whole floor loom thing is that I no longer have a table to store my boxes of yarn and dye stuff under, which means I'll probably have to keep them somewhere other than the lounge. I guess really I'm just lucky that our lounge is big enough to fit a (fairly large) loom in the corner without really noticing it too badly.

I have a zillion things to take photos of to post, so I will try to make tomorrow photography day so I can show off my new toy.

I am also planning a post on my warp weighted loom, since I've had a few questions, so I'll try and get that properly written up sometime in the next few days.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Results of the experiment

Here is the post that I thought I'd lost, about the comparison between weaving from the warp weighted loom and the horizontal table loom. And there are now photos...

I know, the background colour isn't great for this...
Width - 85mm
ppi - approx 32/4"
stretch - 50cm unstretched to 57cm stretched

Width - 82mm
ppi - approx 31/4"
stretch - 50cm unstretched to 56/57cm stretched

I think the conclusion I can reach here is that the wool itself is extremely stretchy. I could possibly do more experimenting and come up with slight differences, but given that there was a couple of years between the two pieces of weaving I don't think I can really conclude that there is any real difference between these pieces. The actual weaving process is quite different. To try and get the same weft density on the table loom I had to use a denser sett on the selvedges, and then I still had to beat very lightly. On the warp weighted piece the warp density is actually lower towards the edges - I suspect that this is mostly through inexperience with a warp weighted loom.

I think both looms have their particular advantages and quirks, depending on the project. The warp weighted loom has (in some ways) more flexibility than the horizontal loom. It theoretically has an unlimited number of shafts, and with a clever tie up can have warp threads attached to more than one heddle rod (this is one of those things that messed me up when I was trying to tie the heddles on the 2-2 twill currently on it - it took me a couple of attempts to work it out). I guess you could think of it as having an infinite number of shafts, with the heddle rods being a treadle equivalent. Too many will get confusing, but you can use as many as you like at one time. It's much harder to change the tie-up though.
Probably my favourite part is that you don't have to wind the warp onto anything, and tension is much less hassle. The downside is that you have to move the weights, which I think would get pretty annoying on a wide cloth.

The horizontal loom is a more sophisticated machine. It has a lot of added features that help to make a good, reliable end product. The reed helps to get a tighter beat, as well as holding your cloth at (or at least close to) a fixed width. (You can kind of do this on the warp weighted loom by fixing the spacing on the heddles, but it's not as neat). The threading is a lot faster, and I think it's also easier to fix mistakes. You are limited to however many shafts you have built in, but I guess you could add heddle bars to a horizontal loom too...
You have to wind the warp onto the back beam too, which is my least favourite part. The weaving is also a lot faster, which I think is the biggest advantage.

So overall, the same result appears to be achievable with both looms. The stretch in the original band appears to be entirely due to the elasticity of the yarn. Which I guess really means that I don't really need to build a full size warp weighted loom.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A saga of photos

So, the napkins are now off the loom. I've just pulled a (rather large) batch of photos off my camera, so I can now show what I've been doing over the last month. (Yes, I just discovered that some of the photos on my camera had been there for just over a month. I really don't know what I was thinking.)

First of all, the loom modifications. My table loom now has aprons at both front and back, which is (I think) the biggest thing I had planned to do. I've also added another hundred heddles, but that's not very exciting at all in pictures.

Secondly, the napkins. These are what was keeping me too busy to transfer photos for the last couple of weeks. Not sure what my excuse was before that...

These are a Christmas present, but I don't expect to have them hemmed and completely finished until the end of the year. That's fine by me, it's when I'll be seeing the recipient anyway. I finished them off in a fit of staying-up-too-late on Tuesday night. Most of the last one was very smooth - I was finally at the point where I was comfortably able to throw the (too short) stick shuttles through the shed relatively reliably. The last few inches were rather interesting though - I only just managed to squeeze it in. I was working with a teeny tiny shed (and having to manually push the heddle bars down), and it was right up against the reed - the one time that I have felt particularly grateful for having stick shuttles.

I had meant to have a photo of the back of the loom showing just how much warp was left, but I managed to fail to upload it. Needless to say, I physically could not wind it on any further (and that wasn't because I'd made the aprons too short).

The napkins are a summer and winter design. The blue weft doesn't cover as well as it should because it's the same thickness as everything else. The original plan was something entirely different that would have worked just fine with these thicknesses, so I thought I'd see how it went. I think it came out okay, but I'd probably use thicker pattern weft next time. These photos are before washing. You can see the markers I put in on the middle section so that I never had to count any higher than 20.

The sizes were not identical, but they were all within a couple of cm in length. Width before washing was 54cm, length ranged from 58-60cm. After washing they look like they're about 50cm wide and 53cm long, which should make them roughly square once they're hemmed.

I still have to catch up on blogging - I've got exchange towels to write about, and I've just discovered that the post that I wrote and thought I'd lost (about the warp weighted loom comparison) is not in fact lost, so I'll have to sort out all the photos that go with that too.

No idea what the next weaving project will be. I've nearly finished the scarf I was making for Christmas, and I'm not sure what the next project there will be either. The new loom will be being picked up after Christmas, and then I can see how long that takes to get sorted out - might be a while before I need to have a project planned. And in the meantime, I can always resurrect my warp weighted loom if I need a quick(?) fix:
It's only about 60cm high, and this warp has been languishing for quite a while. I need to find the ball of indigo dyed wool I was using for weft, which I think is why I stopped. I also stopped because it's just an annoying height to work at - I think I'll have to try putting it on a coffee table or something. Oh, and the orange thing hanging off the corner of the loom? That was the first thing I wove on it, a 2-1 twill bit of cloth, madder dyed. It was supposed to be a little hat, but it ended up being to small. It's probably going to turn into a bag eventually, but until then it's a decoration.

And a gratuitous close up, showing that the weaving is in fact a twill:
That's all I've done, and the warp is (probably) around 6m long. The weaving takes about 3-4 times as long as the table loom. It was my first attempt at a 2-2 twill on this loom, and I have to admit that making the heddles took me about three attempts before I got it to work nicely (and without mistakes). I like the flexibility of this loom - you can have as many heddle bars as you like, although too many is likely to drive you mad. But my favourite part is that you don't have to beam the warp, the tension takes care of itself quite nicely. Of course, the downside is that you have to keep moving the weights which can also get a bit tedious.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Optimism and pretty tea towels

Looks like I may not have been too optimistic after all. I've just finished the fourth napkin, which means only two more to go before the end of Saturday. I think I'll be pushing it to get them all hemmed before going away though, I'll probably do that on holiday.

The scarf is staying roughly on track, I'm hoping it'll be ready for blocking by Saturday afternoon at the very latest.

And on Friday I got home from work to discover a package on my doorstep. In it were two tea towels and a very nice calendar, thanks to Geodyne. (Also thanks to Meg for organising the festive towel exchange - it was good fun). I haven't taken any photos of the package yet because I'm slack (and I've been busy doing weaving and stuff), but there is information about them here. I think Autumn Leaves was my favourite of all the towels, so thank you Meg, you chose the swap well.

When I've actually taken some nice photos they'll get a post all of their own

Thursday, 11 December 2008


Looks like I really was being extremely optimistic. The scarf is probably still a day away from being half done (according to the pattern, it looks awfully short at the moment though). The prototype sock is done once I graft the toe, I think I will put an order in for wool over the next couple of days. The sock pattern is remarkably quick to knit up (lace pattern, only 58 stitches around). Although I could just be confused about normal knitting times, since the last pair was done on 2mm needles, with 96 stitches.

The napkins could be a problem though. I overlooked one vital thing in the planning stages - my shuttles are not long enough. At the moment I only have stick shuttles, and they're only 40cm long. I managed to get 1/3rd of a napkin done last night. I'm not as happy with the result as I could be - I think it would have been better with a looser sett, and the pattern weft is the same thickness as both the warp and tabby weft so the coverage is fairly meagre. That aside, the pattern does show up nicely, and I think washing will help. I suppose it's vaguely possible that I could get the rest of the napkin done tonight, since I don't have to spend time tying up, or working out what the hem is going to do, or finalising the pattern...

The new loom comes with shuttles though, so I'm hoping I'll get something decent there (and if not I guess I'll have more incentive to go out and buy some).

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Making of Christmas stuff

For some reason I find myself trying to make a set of six napkins for Christmas, as well as knitting a scarf and possibly a pair of socks. The knitting is not implausible, since it's nice and portable. I hope to be nearly half done with the scarf by the end of today, and I only started it on Sunday night. The socks are still debatable, although I'll have to decide soon so I can buy the wool I want...

The napkins will be interesting though. I'm going away for Christmas - leaving home on the 21st, so that's my self imposed deadline. (I say self imposed because I don't think it will matter if I don't get them finished before New Years...). I just finished threading the loom last night, just needs tying to the front beam. I hope to get at least half a napkin woven tonight. I have a feeling I may be deluded in thinking I have any hope of doing this.

Project details:
420 ends, 18epi
Fairly plain summer and winter design, just with patterned borders. I'm vaguely considering doing a pickup motif in one corner on each napkin.
Warp is the same cotton I used to do the tea towels, wefts will be blue and natural cottolin. I'm not sure whether the pattern weft will be blue in all of them, or if I want to do some with the natural weft. I'm going to start with pattern weft blue, tabby weft natural though, and take it from there.

I think the (almost) 60cm width of these napkins is pretty close to the limit of what my table loom can handle. Luckily I've just bought a floor loom. I don't get to pick it up until Christmas though, and then I'll get to have fun working out what makes it tick. It's a 48" 8 shaft countermarche, and I've only seen one picture. It looked like what I was wanting though, so I gave into temptation.

And on the theme of looms, the aprons were attached before I started setting up for napkins. They're just stitched onto the beams through the holes that were already there, and are possibly not quite perfectly straight. I'll have to see how they behave when actually weaving, but tying onto the back beam was definitely more pleasant than without the apron.

I should have photos of various things, but they're still sitting on the camera. I expect I may not have time to do anything with them until holiday time, when there will be no loomy distraction...

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Towels sent, loom mods under way

Towels got sent off on Thursday. I missed the cut-off date for overseas Christmas shipping, but I'm hoping it'll still get there in time anyway. I took more photos of them after I'd rewashed (to try to remove all traces of cat hair), but they're still on my camera.

I am making cloth aprons for my loom - the string was starting to drive me mad. So far I have canvas cut out, and the cut edge zigzagged. I've got some aluminium bar (which I also plan to make some warp sticks, and new lease sticks from), and have two pieces cut and drilled. Next I just need to put the canvas, bars and loom together in a way that actually works...

And just to make it all interesting I appear to be making a set of 6 napkins for Christmas presents, theoretically finishing within two weeks because that's when I'll be going away for Christmas. I think I've also managed to talk myself into knitting a lace scarf and quite possibly a pair of socks within the next two weeks too. Could be interesting.