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.)

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