Weaving Star Work

Back in the fall of 2016, I was registered for a class on 18th and 19th century handwoven textiles with Marjie Thompson. Each of us in the workshop was going to set up a loom ahead of time with a specific pattern. We’d bring our looms to the workshop and, during the weekend, we would all go around and weave a sample on each person’s loom. By the end of the weekend we would have lots of samples of different patterns. I was very excited.

I got my draft in the mail. A draft is the plan for a weaving project that tells you how to set up your loom to weave that particular design. I wound the warp, threaded my loom, organized the tie-up, wove a sample, and then got sick. I wasn’t able to attend the actual workshop.

The pattern I was given is called Leisey Star. The weave structure is known as “Star Work.” My specific pattern came from the manuscript of Henry Leisey in the collection of the Landis Valley Farm Museum in Lancaster, PA. I was excited to get this pattern because Landis Valley was one of the first places that I bought fiber flax seed from years ago, through their heirloom seed project.

This weave structure involves two shuttles and two sizes of yarn. One is a thin yarn that creates the background cloth. The other is a thick yarn that creates the pattern. The pattern is created by “floats” of the thick yarn that stay on the surface of the cloth. To keep the cloth stable, each “pick” or row of pattern yarn is followed by a row of thin yarn called a “tabby”. The tabby creates a firm cloth that keeps all the floats in place. Star Work is similar in many ways to overshot, which is a cloth structure I have woven many yards of, and I’ve posted about before. You can read a couple of my earlier posts here and here.

The design is very striking. I really like it. Here’s the pattern in black and white:


Here is a comparison of the front and back of the cloth. The two images on the left and right show the back of the cloth. The one in the middle is the front of the cloth:

However, one thing that frustrated me was that the selvedges were asymmetrical. The selvedge is the edge of the cloth on the right and left hand sides. When I threaded the warp, I just repeated the pattern three times. I hadn’t thought to create a “balance”, which means adding a little extra on one side to make the entire piece of cloth symmetrical. Here’s how it looked:

Ideally I would have added another section to repeat the solid, black octagonal shape on the left hand side. The problem wasn’t so much that the design was asymmetrical, though I am a fan of symmetry. It was that handling the two shuttles was really, really annoying. A shuttle is the tool that carries the yarn back and forth in the weft as you weave.

When you are using two shuttles (one for each size of yarn), you usually find a way to bring them around the edge of the cloth in a consistent manner. This keeps the edge looking nice and neat. I couldn’t find a consistent way to handle the shuttles because each edge behaved differently. The selvedges were messy. As an experienced weaver, that was hard to tolerate. It may sound like a minor thing, but it was really bothering me, and it made the weaving experience unpleasant.

This was very disappointing, and the warp sat on my loom for a long time while I struggled with indecision about how to proceed. Should I re-thread the whole thing as Leisey Star, but center the pattern? Re-thread as something else? Just keep going?

The yarn in the warp is 20/2 cotton. The ends per inch, or number of threads in an inch, is 30. My warp is 480 ends (threads) wide. Re-threading would take a long time….

The black yarn is 5/2 cotton. 20/2 and 5/2 are not fractions. That’s the way the size of a yarn is described by weavers. The 2 on the bottom of the number means both yarns were two-ply. Basically that means my pattern weft was about 4 times the diameter of the warp yarn. I do not usually weave with such thick yarn, and I only had one color in that size (the black). I didn’t want to buy more 5/2 yarn just for this project.

In the end I cut off the section I had woven in black and white, left the threading the same, and added floating selvedges. A floating selvedge is an additional thread on each edge that is not part of the pattern. You can go under and over these threads consistently, independently of whatever the other threads in the pattern are doing. To me it is a very useful way of managing selvedges with certain weave structures. I would have done that at the very beginning, but not everyone likes to use a floating selvedge, and I was originally setting up this project with other weavers in mind.

Problem number one solved. Selvedges no longer annoying. Check.

Problem number two was the fact that I didn’t have any other 5/2 yarn, and I wasn’t enamored of the black and white enough to weave 6 yards of it. Instead, I switched to 6/2 yarns. I have a significant stash of this size from many years ago, in several colors. They were mill ends in the back room at Webs, and I was running a weaving summer camp for kids, and it was suitably economical. The cones were like two pounds each, and I seldom use them, so they have lasted me a long time! The 6/2 is a teensy bit thinner than the 5/2, but not so much that it makes a difference to me.

I played around with color combinations in both the pattern and the tabby. I have a ridiculous amount of 20/2 yarns in many colors. When I heard that UKI was discontinuing this line a few years ago, I panicked and bought a lot. Those were the days when I was weaving book cloth for hand-bound books, and 20/2 makes a very good weight for the warp and tabby when weaving overshot. You can see some photos of the books I used to make in an older blog post here.

Here are the color combinations that I settled on for weaving the rest of the Star Work warp:

The pattern colors are blue green, olive green, gold, maroon, and black. The tabby colors are gold and teal. The teal 20/2 isn’t actually from UKI, it’s another mill end from Webs. Each section has a different combination of pattern and tabby colors. It is fun to weave, and I really like how it’s coming out.

On the left is a view of the under-side of the cloth and the cloth beam. On the right is the view as the cloth wraps around the breast beam. It clearly shows the texture of the floats:

I like how each section can be cropped to make a little composition of its own:


Past Speaking Engagements

Over the past year, I have had several opportunities to demonstrate flax processing and talk about natural dyeing. Here is a quick summary of four events that I didn’t get around to writing about when they happened. I just want to document and share them before too much more time passes.

Last August (2016) I did a flax processing demonstration at the Amherst History Museum, in conjunction with the art exhibit “Artifacts Inspire” by the Fiber Artists of Western Massachusetts. The museum asked the participating artists to create original works inspired by objects in the museum’s collection. Two of the pieces in the show were created by Martha Robinson, inspired by two antique hetchels, which are flax processing tools. There’s a good photo of one of her felted pieces here. It was great fun to show people how flax was processed in the past, and to let folks try their hand at using the tools.

Here’s a shot of crowd at the beginning of the demo:

Here I am by the brake and the scutching board:

And here’s Marianne, their consulting curator, getting a kick out of using a hetchel:

The next gig I wanted to mention was my presentation to the Weavers Guild of Springfield on March 4, 2017. I showed a slideshow about planting, growing, harvesting, and retting flax:

Then, I did a quick demonstration of how to use the tools:

It was lovely to meet a new group of weavers, and inspiring to see some old acquaintances there, too.

The third event I wanted to note was the FIBERuary panel I was part of on Feb. 19, 2017 at Sheep and Shawl in Deerfield. FIBERuary is a relatively new event here in Western MA celebrating our local fiber farmers and fiber artists. It’s spearheaded by Carole Adams of Whispering Pines Farm in Colrain, MA. In the past two years it has included a month-long blog and speaker series at Sheep and Shawl. On our panel, we addressed dyeing natural fibers from three perspectives: Linnie Dugas of Woollies of Shirkshire Farm talked about dyeing wool with natural dyes, and brought some luscious dyed batts and roving. I talked about natural dyeing skeins of linen. Scott Norris of Elam’s Widow talked about his process using Procion fiber reactive dyes to dye the linen yarns he uses in his spectacular handwoven kitchen towels.

Last but not least, I was a presenter on a panel at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Sustainability in Textiles Summer Institute in New York on June 7, 2017. Our panel was called “Local Fiber Connections” on the theme of “Farm to Fashion”. The other panelists were Jeffrey Silberman, Chair of the Textile Development and Marketing Department at FIT, Mimi Prober, designer, and Sara Healy of Buckwheat Bridge Angoras. My portion of the panel was a slideshow about retting and processing flax, and basic information about spinning and weaving linen. Sara has worked with Mimi to create custom blended batts for felted garments in Mimi’s collection.

Jeff, Mimi, some other folks at FIT, myself and other members of the New England Flax and Linen Study Group are working on a Farm to Fashion project in which we are collaborating to grow and process flax, spin and weave it, and produce garments for a runway show! At this point, the flax is still in the field, but it’s an exciting prospect.


Purple Cloth

I wove some cloth! This shouldn’t be so remarkable, I suppose, but I’ve been really unproductive in the fiber art realm lately so it’s big news. Ultimately I plan to use this cloth to make a new batch of books with purple covers. I had hoped to have a few made in time for the upcoming “Purple Show” at the Shelburne Arts Co-op, but alas they will not be ready in time. I may get them finished before the end of the show…. The show hangs this Tuesday March 31st, and is up until Monday April 27.

Here are the weaverly details about this project: The warp is 20/2 cotton, from the discontinued UKI line. The color is called Malay Purple. There are 598 ends in the warp. The sett is 30 ends per inch. The width in the reed is 20 inches. My draw-in (how much the edges pulled in as I wove) was about 6% and the shrinkage in the width was about 4%. Shrinkage in length was about 6%. I washed it by hand in hot water and hung to dry.

The pattern is a miniature overshot motif called Maltese Cross. I’ve written about overshot in earlier posts, but I’ll quickly recap here. To weave overshot, you typically weave one pick of fine yarn (the same size as the warp) alternating with one pick of thicker yarn (approximately twice the diameter of the warp). The fine yarn makes a background that stabilizes the cloth creating a plain weave structure called tabby. In this piece of cloth, I used the same color of 20/2 cotton for the warp and the tabby. The thicker weft yarns float over several warp ends and form the pattern. I’ve woven most of my book cloth using overshot motifs. I really love them. To me they are simultaneously old-fashioned and psychedelic. Continue reading “Purple Cloth”

Planning a Linen Warp

After I spun up that modest quantity of linen singles yarn (the bleached Louet top I wrote about last time), I got excited about planning a warp for it. I plan to use the handspun as weft. My current thought is to use the wet and dry spun yarns in alternating stripes in the weft. I think this will create stripes of different textures. But what to use for the warp?

I have a motley stash of naturally dyed linen yarns, including 20/1, 20/2 and 40/2 yarns. This project seemed like a good opportunity to use some of it. Since most of my dyeing consists of experiments and small batches, I don’t have a lot of any one color. So, I can’t make the whole warp from a single color, which obviously means I need stripes in the warp. Continue reading “Planning a Linen Warp”

Bookmark Success!

After I wove off that pink warp, dyed with madder, I finally put a new warp on the loom. It’s a blue warp, dyed with woad, for more “Jack Frost” pattern bookmarks. Amazingly enough, the first three came out exactly the same length! This is a feat of consistency of which I am rarely capable, so I was pretty happy. Here they are:

consistent weaving

What I have been aiming for in my bookmarks is a woven length of 10 inches, with 1 inch of fringe on each end. This allows them to fit exactly into the stylish wrappers Matthew designed, which are 12 inches long. Continue reading “Bookmark Success!”

Bookmark Failures (Successes Coming Soon)

This post is the latest installment in a longer saga about weaving bookmarks with naturally dyed 40/2 linen. The saga spans many months, if not years. I have posted about these bookmarks in the past. You can read my most recent post about it here.

Or you can just catch up on the back story in this post!

My linen bookmarks are woven with 40/2 linen. They are not too time-consuming to produce, though the pricing still works out to a meager hourly rate when I take into account all the steps involved in the dyeing plus the weaving. Continue reading “Bookmark Failures (Successes Coming Soon)”

I Am Pleased With My Linen Yarns

This is just a short post to say that I’m pleased with my stash of linen yarns. Here they are:

linen yarnsThe pink colors at the top come from madder roots, and also the little orange skein on the left. The browns are from black walnut. The light orange in the center is from orange cosmos. The blues are from woad. The greens are from weld with woad on top. The yellows are from weld. This modest-sized basket represents a ton of work, and I am very satisfied!

Continue reading “I Am Pleased With My Linen Yarns”

Newfangled Magnification Technology

Back in December I began working on a new batch of Huck lace heart bookmarks in 40/2 linen, dyed with madder. People buy these at all times of year, but my current motivation is to have them available before Valentine’s Day.

I have a wide range of pink shades to chose from at the moment, so I plan to make a lot and have a good stash of inventory for several months. Last weekend I finished ten in a very pale pink, and this weekend I worked on ten more in a slightly darker, more blue shade of pink. Next weekend I hope to make some rich terra-cotta colored ones.

In the past, the most tedious part of the process of weaving these bookmarks has been the hemstitching. Each bookmark took just over an hour to weave (not including dyeing the yarn and dressing the loom), at least 20 minutes of which was the hemstitching. Until recently, I employed a magnifying glass to assist me with this job, since 40/2 linen is a fairly fine yarn and I will be 45 on my next birthday. Hence, my eyes need some help. Actually, I wrote about using a magnifying glass in an earlier post a couple years ago. Apparently I felt way more philosophical and content about it back then. Continue reading “Newfangled Magnification Technology”

Hemming and Hanging

Over the past week or two I tied half-damascus knots to secure the warp ends on my ryas and hemmed them all. It took a long time, and even though I was very careful, they’re more on the “organic” side of a straight line than the “geometric” side. But they are still awesome.

Our cat Smitten, also known as Pippi or The Pippi, has been very unwell lately and not at all up to her usual high jinks. So, it was a pleasant surprise when she jumped up on the desk to “help” me hem this rya. Pippi likes to help, even when she’s feeling poorly. Here she is looking comfy and not wanting to be moved. Continue reading “Hemming and Hanging”