Drilling the AVL

Last night I was up at 2 a.m. drilling holes in my AVL.  I finished the modifications to the fly-shuttle assembly to turn it from a pull-down mechanism to a side-to-side throw.  The pull-down mechanism the loom came with made my shoulder hurt after about a half-hour of weaving, so Laura and Doug Fry (aka the loom mechanics) came and helped me prototype changing it over.  They left me with a shopping list and instructions for building the final version and now…I’ve finished it.  There may be a bit of tweaking to the length of the Texsolv on either side of the handle, but other than that, it’s done.

Modified AVL Loom

There was one bad moment while drilling the maple.  It’s very hard wood, and my drill bit started to smoke.  I’m perched on a 24-inch bench, drilling at the top of my loom, in my PJs and bathrobe at 2 a.m., with the rest of the family asleep.  Smoke is curling up towards the smoke detector.  And I’m thinking: “how much smoke can one generate before it goes off?”  I started blowing and waving to disperse the smoke and slowed down with the drilling and was able to finish without sirens erupting.  Whew!

I inserted a stainless-steel bolt with an loop end into the newly drilled hole and fastened the other end with a washer and locking nut.

the drilled hole


Then I ran Texsolv from the upright, to a central loop that hold the cord up and out of the way of the warp.

central ring

Looking at this now, I realize that I’ve done something a bit whack.  In a traditional fly-shuttle the cord runs through the metal loop.  I don’t need the connector at the bottom.  What the heck was I thinking?

I started to take it apart, then realized that system put together this way has a nice smooth feel. I think I’ll  play with it this way first, then switch it over to the traditional method and see which I like best.

From the loop, the cord spreads out to the handle at the center of the loom, and the flyshuttle box at the side of the loom.

fishing swivel

The black connectors are 140-lb ball-bearing snap swivels from a fishing supply store.  They’re super strong and pivot so no twist builds up as the system works.  They’re also easy to replace should one fail.  Plus it makes it easy to detatch the fly-shuttle cords should you want to hand-throw a shuttle instead.

The white cord is Texsolv, which I like because it’s strong and is easy to adjust in length because it’s got little loops all along its length.  I used those loops and some tricks I learned from assembling rigid heddle looms to attach all the texsolv without having to tie any knots.  It felt like solving one of those rope-and-post puzzles my family gives out at Christmas.  I’m delighted with the results, very strong and clean-looking.

The handle is a simple hickory hammer handle from a hardware store.  The upside to hickory is that it’s dense and strong, the downside is that it’s a bugger to drill into.  I may add some padding to it as some point.  I’m thinking wool felt or leather might be nice.

Why did finishing this project take me so long?  One reason is drilling holes in the beautiful rock maple of my vintage AVL takes a bit of an emotional run-up.  There’s another mod I want to do, to make the front beam easier to take out, but it involves cutting into curly maple, so it may be a while before I build up the gumption to tackle that.

The other change I made was to take out the built-in bench.  One of the things that bugs me about my vintage AVL is that you have to take the loom apart to thread it, so, with Laura’s encouragement…I’m fixing that, tweaking the loom to make it work better for me.  The seat I have in there now is not perfect, the front edge is too sharp and cuts into my legs when I treadle.  What I eventually want is a hand-woven Walt Turpening seat, but  there’s a months-long waiting list for those, and a hefty deposit.  In the meantime, I’ll either live with this as-is, pull out a sander and fix the edge, or find a better 24-inch-high seat to use.

There was one bench upright that I wasn’t able to get out last night.  I ran out of steam around 3 a.m. and decided that since it looked like I might have to take more of the loom apart, and/or flip a 500-pound loom over on its back, it should wait until I’d had a bit of sleep.
bench upright
Today I hope to get a good whack of weaving time in on the fly shuttle, both because I want to flush any bugs out of the new system, and because I need to get the current cloth off the loom so I can get started an important project that’s been waiting in warp chains too long…

A Twinkly Christmas Eve

Twinkly TreeThis is one of my favorite nights of the year.  I love the twinkly lights and the sense of anticipation,

When I was a little girl, I used to sleep in the living room next to the tree the night before Christmas.  I don’t know if the plan was to catch Santa in the act, or to be completely sure I wouldn’t miss any present opening.  I came to love drifting off with the colored lights twinkling nearby.

Right now twinkly lights are playing a part in my crafting as well.  As I reported earlier, I’ve been bitten by the eTextile bug.  After an inspirational Skype chat with eTextile diva Lynne Bruning, I’m even more entranced with combining electronics and fiber and garnered some new ideas.


I had mentioned working on the Knitty Know-it-all bag.  That project’s done.  It works as described and I love it… with two caveats.  (1) There’s a short somewhere inside that makes the pattern advance without a button click on rare occasions.  I need to track that down. (2) The LEDs are super bright and give me a headache after staring at them for a while.  I think I either need dimmer LEDs or a way to reduce the power to them.  I need to see if the Lilypad will let me dim the LEDs with software or if I need to come up with a hardware fix.

Knitty Know-it-all Bag

My favorite thing about this bag (aside from learning about Lilypad and the whole “it works!  It really works!” part) are the cloth flowers I added as an embellishment.  I’m not normally a girly-girl, but I found these at Jo-Ann’s Fabric and the colors matched the bag so well, and the shape echoed the Lilypad, that I succumbed.  The contrast between the burly tech-y electronics and the soft girly flowers makes me smile.

In other eTextile news, I’ve been playing with el wire.  This stuff is uber cool.  Here are some preliminary pics of what I’m working on.

Weaving Light

Knitting Light

All grown up, and I still love playing with twinkly lights!


Yesterday I consigned a dozen yards of handwoven fabric to the wash.

There were some disappointments: the 3/2 cotton pattern threads in the Kubla Khan fabric puffed up and the text became less readable.  I nearly fainted, but my friend Selah stepped in and ironed pressed the heck out of the fabric and said the legibility came back.  It did, but not as much as I’d hoped.  Lesson: sometime wet-finishing samples lie.

But there were also some delightful surprises.  Several fabrics developed tracking.  What do I mean by tracking?  Take a look at the image below.

tracking in fabric

See that wonderfully complex and subtle patterning?  The way the design is organic and non-repeating?  Want the weave draft?

It’s plain weave.

Sometimes when you wash a fabric, you get tracking.  I’m not exactly sure what causes it, but I think it’s that the twist in the warp and weft yarn interact to create random patterns that look like very complex twills.  I love the way the colors and tracking in this fabric create something reminiscent of tree bark.

There’s not enough here to make a jacket, alas.  So, I’m scheming ways to make a garment out of this.  The warp was sock yarn from Creekside fibers, the weft a silk noil from a weaver’s garage sale.  Would a different silk noil work if I bought more yarn from Creekside?  I’m not sure.  Of course, I could always weave something coordinating and subdued and let the tracked fabric be an accent fabric.m

Here’s another, even more dramatic example of tracking.  I was sampling several wefts and the orange produced this lovely effect.

more tracking
Have you experienced tracking in your fabrics?  Is it something you welcome, or do you see it as a flaw in the fabric?

Have you been able to induce tracking in your fabric?  If so, how?  I love the look of tracking, and would like to play with it more.

Consigned to the Washing Machine

In nearly every handwoven cloth’s existence comes the time when it is washed.  This is an exciting moment.  The fibers that relaxed a bit when taken off the loom are given even more freedom by the water and the transformation can be dramatic, so much so that Laura Fry entitled her excellent book on the subject of wet-finishing textiles, Magic in the Water.  Because sometimes you’d swear, there must be.

But in some instances the dramatic transformation is not a good one.  The woolen fabric felts, the cotton puckers, a yarn shreds in the wash making the textile look years old instantly.  Because of this, in the past, I’ve had a tendency to delay washing my cloth. I don’t stop weaving, because there’s always a new idea to try, so eventually I have piles of unwashed cloth cluttering up the place.

Today, Selah, my co-teacher for the “Clothing from the Rigid-Heddle Loom” class we’re teaching at Madrona is coming over for a session of sewing up sample garments and to familiarize me with her very cool Asian-inspired vest pattern.  It’s a bad idea to sew with unwashed fabric, so I consigned many woven-off warps to the washing machine yesterday.

Fabric going into the wash

To take a bit of the risk away, I do something that Daryl Lancaster recommended in The Weaver Sews.  I cut three small samples: save one unwashed, hand-wash one, and machine-wash the last.  This helps, but the truth is, the results you get from a small sample sometimes are different that what you get from the full length of cloth, which can tangle and twist in the washer.

So I always have a twinge when I put cloth into the washing machine.  It’s like potters when they put work into the kiln, or dyers when the skein goes into the pot.  For all your skill and care, you never know exactly what you’ll pull out.

I always feel like telling my cloth, “Good luck in there!  Do me proud!”

A Visit from Mirrix

This morning I had a delightful brunch with Claudia Chase (owner and founder of Mirrix Looms) and her daughter Elena (marketing director of Mirrix.)  Claudia was in town visiting her daughter after a video shoot in Ohio, and it was a fun opportunity to hang out.

Claudia Chase and Elena Zuyok

So many ideas were flying around back-and-forth that we almost forgot to eat!  I enthused about my latest passion, eTextiles, and Claudia and Elena talked about this cool new bead/tapestry fusion bracelet they developed.  Soon our ideas collided and we were talking about eTextile/bead/tapestry fusions!

When the dust cleared, I’d cut my long-unfinished tapestry sampler off my Mirrix loom so I can put on a two-inch prototype warp.  (Claudia made me do it, and it felt to have the loom freed up for a new project that I’m excited about.)

clearing the loom decks

I gave Claudia some LED sequins and conductive thread to go home and play with.  Bringing artists together is great brain-sparky fun!

The only thing keeping me from leaping up and warping right now is I’m feeling pressure to get the Viking Coffee Cozy pattern out the door.  Tune in tomorrow to see which impulse won out.

Good Geeky Fun

Yesterday was a very good day.  I lucked into an invitation from Madelyn van der Hoogt to come weave on her 32-shaft Megado.  I’m not 100% sure why she extended this generous offer to me.  Perhaps it’s Madelyn’s inherent awesomeness (vast, BTW), or maybe it was the way I kept caressing and hugging the Megado during the Weaving II class I took with her at The Weaver’s School.  I was quite shameless in my admiration of it.

Syne working on a Megado

As if that wasn’t enough coolness for one day, it turns out that the brilliant electronics technologist I’d been corresponding with via WeaveTech, John Acord of Flatwater Electronics, also lives on Whidbey and that he and his wife Claire are both weavers (and own sheep and border collies!)

Lunch was arranged.  We all talked about many things fiber and fiber-animal while we ate a lovely meal at a restaurant overlooking the water.

Afterwards, John gave me a wonderful present, I squee-ed with delight when I saw it!  It’s a solenoid prototyping board that can be driven with a Lilypad Arduino.  I’ve started playing around with micro-controllers and solenoids and John’s been generously sharing his knowledge on the subject (you can see his files on WeaveTech.) He even provided notes on how it works, how absolutely cool is that?

solenoid prototype board

After lunch I went back to Madelyn’s to weave.  I’d planned to spend the day before designing 32-shaft weave drafts, but events conspired against me (child-related homework freak-out.  We got through it; it took four hours.)  So I arrived sans weave drafts but with Alice Schlein’s excellent book, The Liftplan Connection: Designing for Dobby Looms with Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, at my side.  If you ever need to create a 32-shaft woven-words weave draft from scratch in half an hour or less, you want this book to hand.  It’s both brilliant and easy to understand.

Also, if you’re using a Mac and you want a program that makes it super easy to take the bitmap peg plan you created in Photoshop Elements (ala Schlein’s book) and turn it into a weave-able WIF file, I highly recommend pixeLoom.  You simply copy the BMP file onto the clipboard and then choose Edit→Paste Liftplan from pixeLoom’s menu option.  That’s it!  pixeLoom is now my favorite weaving software for the Mac (I’m so thrilled they now offer a Mac-native version in addition to their Windows version.)

My original plan was to weave the first five lines of my favorite Coleridge poem:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome degree
Where Alph the sacred river ran
In caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea

But, given that I was working fast, on a laptop with a small screen, I settled for the first two lines so I could get to weaving as soon as possible.

One of the reasons I was there (in addition to playing and making cloth) was to test-drive the Megado and give my impressions and feedback. This is a prototype, so some things make have changed in the final version (ie: YMMV), but here’s what I found:

Louet Megado

  • I loved the ease of treadling and the compactness of the loom.  The Megado uses a wacky back beam that raises (yes! The whole back beam raises!) when you treadle, and this acts a counterweight for treadling and allows you to get a good shed with a short loom footprint.  (Other looms use the length behind the harnesses to get a good angle.)
  • John had tuned the loom the day before, so the harnesses worked wonderfully for over 2100 picks.  There was one treadling error in the cloth, but it was at the end where I was weaving crazy fast and may have been user error, me not pushing the treadle all the way down between picks or some such.
  • One of the criticisms I’d heard about the Megado was that it “wove slow.”  While Madelyn was upstairs working, I opened up the throttle and wove as fast as I could. The loom kept up with me flawlessly.  I have woven on computerized looms where you press the treadle, then wait, then weave.  This was not like that at all.  As soon as you finished one pick, the next one was immediately ready to go.
  • The ergonomics of the loom are great.  There’s just one big treadle to push.  So if your left foot gets tired, switch to your right, and vice versa.  During the weaving session I switched back and forth several times.
  • The Megado had a very simple-but-elegant way to ensure an even tension on the warp during weaving.  There’s a piece of Texsolv on the front and you crank on the tension until the Texsolv is taut.  It’s not as automatic or adjustable as the AVL cloth advance, but works quite well indeed.
  • All-in-all, I still have serious Megado lust.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love my vintage 16-shaft AVL, but I find the Megado a very elegant solution for a weaver who wants many shafts in a sturdy loom with a small footprint.

Here’s the cloth I wove yesterday.  It’s about 2-1/2 yards of satin weave. (7/1 satin foreground and 1/7 satin background.)  I’ve decided it’s going to be skirt fabric, and I have some cunning ideas involving a peplum and el wire.

Coleridge cloth

In addition to making cloth, while I was on the island I interviewed John about the cool work he’s doing making hardware interfaces that will enable older computer-driven looms like the J-Comp and Schacht Combby to work with modern operating systems.

Flatwater Electronics Interface

That’s right! Owners of these looms no longer need to hoard Windows 98 machines!  While I was at Madelyn’s I saw a Schacht Combby being run off a Windows 7 laptop.  Tres cool!  Watch for his interview and Jacey Boggs talking about spinning art yarns on the next WeaveCast, due out December 15th.


To finish off a day replete with geeky goodness, on the late-night ferry ride back from the island, I started sewing the electronic circuits of the Know-it-all Bag from Knitty.  Here’s what it’s looking like thus far.

conductive stitching

(Note: Embroidery is not my specialty, and I don’t recommend trying to learn how to back-stitch by a car dome light while riding on a moving ferry, unless it’s an I-wanna-do-it-now emergency, which it totally was.)

Of Models and Microchips

My guild is putting on a fashion show, and I am one of the models.  One of the things I love about this event is that the models come in all sizes and shapes and ages and colors and we are all fabulous!  I love cheering on my fellow guild members as they strut their stuff.  Too often our culture celebrates a small sliver of beauty, missing out on all its  glorious permutations.

And then there are the clothes!  Fabulous handwoven garments ranging from the everyday practical to art-to-wear fanciful. My only regret about being a model (aside from the fear that’ll trip on the catwalk and go sprawling) is that I can’t simultaneously sit in the audience and take in the show.

I’ll try to get some behind the scenes pictures tomorrow, if I’m allowed.  I think it’s going to be a wacky fun time.  One of the things we’re modeling are socks!  Socks in a fashion show!  There’ll be 12 of us on stage high kicking and showing off our feet.  Given that we’re all (as far as I know) amateurs at this…should be a wild time!

The other thing that’s keeping me entertained right now is this:

Lilypad Arduino

It’s a microchip for fiber artists! It’s purple and you can sew it on clothes! It’s even hand-washable!  But it’s also a real honest-to-goodness microcontroller that you can hook up to your computer via a USD port and program and hook up to sensors and motors to do amazing things.

If you listened to the first WeaveCast, you’ll know that I owned a Baby Wolf and didn’t have great results at first.  In fact, I was so traumatized by my first attempts to weave that I gave the poor loom a two-year time out in the corner before I picked it up again and became enthralled.

This microcontroller is the Lilypad Arduino, and it’s been sitting in my stash since Christmas 2008, when I was delighted to get it as a present, but too intimidated to dive in.

That’s all changed.  I’m building the Know-It-All bag from Knitty, and in the process I’ve played around with the Lilypad, and you know, it’s not that hard to hook up and program. Neurons that have been gathering dust since I took digital electronics classes back in the day are perking up and coming alive again, whispering to me of Ohm’s law and Zener diodes and other wondrous things.

I find myself online reading and watching Arduino tutorials when I should be getting work done.  Ideas for new uses and applications of the things I’m learning are whirling around my brain like dust devils.  I am completely, totally, smitten.

I haven’t been bitten this hard since the weaving bug got me.  Handwoven, eTextile goodness, oh yeah, this is gonna be fun.