Blogging by Proxy

I’m teaching a beginning rigid-heddle class at Weaving Works in Seattle today so I’d originally thought there would be no blog post today.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it’s possible to blog by proxy!

First of all, Bonnie Tarses of Weaving Spirit posted pictures and a description about a handwoven towel I wove up for her.

Then lo and behold, on the same day, Astrid Bear of Damselfly Yarns posted about a sample scarf that I wove up out of her delicious yarns.

My work here is done!  Thanks guys!


P.S. Also, I’ve had good news from Handwoven about a submission.  Today’s just coming up rainbows and unicorns all over!

Gifts from the Washing Machine

I washed the rayon chenille that I took off my AVL.  As expected, some of it was completely unusable cloth.  Sacrificed to the gods of learning.

But here, completely pettable and respectable is four yards of cloth, 36 inches wide.  I washed it on cold/normal and then dried it with some towels on tumble-dry-low to beat it up a bit and soften the fabric.  (Woven chenille right off the loom feels a lot like cardboard.)

Respectable cloth

I’m thinking about using it in this pattern, Elements Vest 002.

Elements Vest 002

The fabric is substantial, somewhere between heavy shirt and light jacket.  I think the simple lines of the vest will work well with the strong patterning and texture of the fabric.  Right now I’m wrestling with the angels of my better nature to talk myself into making a muslin (as is proper and right) instead of cutting right into my chenille (which is what I’m aching to do.)

One of the things I love to do when weaving is experiment and play around on the loom, since you’ll never know what you’ll get.  The rayon chenille warp, by dint of it being a learning warp was full of adventure.  And even more things showed up after wet finishing.

lots of stuff happened here

This odd sample is an amalgam of things.  From right to left the weave structures and weft were:

Diamond twill pattern in 20/2 worsted green wool
I rather like this fabric.  The wool fulled a bit and made the diamond pattern pucker into a pleasing almost-waffle.  (I expected some deflection because the structure alternated warp-faced with weft-faced twill which in stripes creates pleats and here creates mini-waffles.)  The dark green color faded into the background pleasing and gave just a hint of irridescence against the maroon.  You lose the complete velvet “luxe” feel of the rayon chenille, but the rayon softens the wool in a nice way and the wool makes the rayon fabric warmer.   I could see this as nice fabric for a fall jacket.

Diamond twill pattern in 20/2 yellow merino
The merino also pulled up into waffles, but the softer fiber fuzzed in the wash and obscured the design and the rayon’s velvet touch.  I like it not so very much.  I’m thinking cut up, it might make serviceable coasters.

Plain Weave in 22/2 yellow merino
The merino fuzzed up and created a hazy over the cloth that is just nasty.  But yet I find this cloth oddly compelling.  It makes me think of rustic fabrics, distressed velvets, lichen on rocks.  Can you be both attracted to and repelled by a fabric?

Straight twill in 22/2 yellow merino
The ruching that occurred in this piece is interesting.  When washed, the twill line deflected in an organic way that reminds me of bustles.  It’s like a form of macro-tracking, where entire sections of pattern are deflected, not just individual threads as can happen in an open plain weave.  At first I thought it occurred because of random felting, but look at this piece.

Pretty fabric

Straight twill, mystery weft
I am in love with this fabric.  The crinkled effect reminds me of bark.  It’s soft and slinky.  The weft was a thin red yarn purchased pre-wound on a pirn.  I think it was either fine silk on a pirn I bought from Lunatic Fringe or fine cotton from a closed mill in NC(1).  I just grabbed it for something to weave with at the time, “hey, here’s a pirn with yarn, let’s clear it off.”  Now that I see what it does, I’ll have to unravel a bit of the cloth and research the fiber.  I want to be able to replicate this effect.

UPDATE: I checked and I’m pretty sure the weft is a 140/2 silk.  That and the 24 sett for the 2000 ypp rayon chenille gave me what Su Butler (rayon-chenille expert) tells me is a “collapse effect.”  Big thanks to her for the term, it’s a lot more elegant than “scrunchy horizontal lines thingy.”

(1) I’m unable to resist vintage pirns filled with yarn when I find them in a yarn shop or antique store.  I point and shout, “pirn!” and then go about finding out how much they cost, often having to stop and explain what they are when I do.  I’d probably get better prices if I looked less enthusiastic.

My History in Code

Typing_iStock_000007155263XSmallI first encountered a computer in eighth-grade gifted class.  It was a TRS-80, which immediately was referred to as “Trash-80.”

When it was brought into the room, a number of the boys immediately adhered to the box.  It wasn’t their fault, the nerdions within them were irresistibly attracted to the positive computer-nucleus inside.  They were even happier when the box was opened and they actually got to use the machine.

The teacher decided that since the children were already using the expensive computery-thing the education board had sent him for their betterment, that he should try to teach a class on it.  Furthermore, since this was the modern 1980s, and he was a sensitive, enlightened guy, he should try to teach the girls, too.(1)

I was sitting in the back of class, negligently dreaming up a new doily pattern when the teacher gave the lesson.  For some reason, he decided to start teaching programing with the concept of recursion.  In retrospect, it is possible he didn’t like us much.  The problem was one of goldfish reproduction and how many goldfish one could expect to have after a given number of generations.

I hadn’t found the discussion of programming interesting, but the problem of run-away goldfish sex grabbed my attention.  A few minutes later, putting my doily down, I interrupted an argument between the boys and the teacher in which the boys had just about convinced him that recursion was an infernal device and shouldn’t be taught to young, impressionable minds, with the words: “Why don’t you just do this:”  Then I explained the logic to solve the problem.  The teacher and the boys looked at me astonished.  Not only had I spoken in class, but I’d said complete sentences.  A girl near me almost dropped her crochet hook.  More than that boggled the teacher and the boys, my solution might even be correct.

I was quickly rushed to the nearest computer by a skinny boy named Gerald.  Because even back then we knew that the only way to be sure you had the right answer was to check with a machine. Calculators had taught us that much.  Once we were in front of the screen Gerald panted: “Can you do that again?”  I looked at the white ASCII characters on the black background and said, “I don’t know the code language stuff but I can tell you how it should go.”  I did so, and Gerald translated my logic into variables and for-next loops and made one addition of his own, a variable counter, i++, to keep track of the generations.

And lo and behold, it was correct.  There was even a lesson plan with the right answer to confirm our smugness.  And so my first user interface was a acne-faced kid named Gerald.(2)

After this initial taste of programming success, I decided I wanted to learn computer programming “for reals.”(3)  I knew that computers thought in binary, but I wasn’t able to find a binary programming book.  So I settled for something called Assembly language.  Unfortunately, I had no 8080-assembly compiler handy, so it quickly became an exercise of writing PEEK and POKE code calls on paper to store and recall variable amounts and then checking my work manually.  Even a truly geeky thirteen-year-old girl will find this dull after a while.

At some point, I got clued into this whole Basic language thing. I begged my mom to let me borrow the super-sexy Atari 400 that the school had given her for her Spanish and ESL students.  It could do…wait for it: graphics! We agreed that it could be brought home nights and weekends, as long as I packaged it up next morning to go back and I was willing to solve any computer questions Mom might have…for life.  Mom was no dummy—she probably has her own box of doilies somewhere—and is still earning dividends off this Faustian bargain.

I began to write a computer game.  My dream was to re-create Space Invaders, so I could play as much as like—for free!(4)  I spent many happy hours animating aliens and fired shots around the screen.  The computer had no disk drive or hard drive, and having to type the entire program in from scratch each time slowed development down considerably.  On the other hand, being forced to type in each line over and over was an excellent motivator for designing efficient code.  It became a game in itself: how few lines can this code be (and still be type-able?)

I saved all the money I didn’t spend on video games and bought a Commodore 64.  It cost somewhere in the three digits and was a major investment to my 13-year-old self.  I spent a happy summer writing my own AD&D-character-generation program.  It was essentially a series of fill-in-the-text forms with a random number generator and a print function.  It was my magnum opus.  Gonna revolutionize my life and make it so much easier to recover quickly from unplanned RPG death.

With a whole summer to burn before eighth grade and college(5), I got in this routine: get up around 3pm, fart around for a few hours before settling down to the serious work of coding around 6pm, code all night until 6am while listening to Nick at Night old-time television programs in the background (I Love Lucy, Mr. Ed, My Three Sons), go for an early morning run, shower, sleep.  This was the only time in my life I’ve been able to follow my internal clock completely, and it’s still a warm happy glow of a memory, being in perfect synch with my biorhythms.  I love working at night; I get all my best ideas at 4am.  IMO, it’s a shame the diurnals are running things.

Part 2 of this narrative picks up in college, and it will get written when my subconscious comes across with a way to make UNIX and MUD-related-angst amusing.  Until then we return you to your regularly schedule weaving blog…

(1) In the 1950-70s, gifted girls were largely related to designing intricate crocheted doily patterns.  It is posited by some scholars that while doing so, they discovered the secret to life, the universe, and everything, and encoded it in an elegant hassock-cover which was published in The Elegant Lady’s Guide to House Fripperies, page 42.

(2) Gerald’s name has been changed from the original.  Because seriously, can you recall who you went to eight grade with?  What is interesting here is that I can barely  remember the boy, but burned into my brain forever is the code correction he made to my logic, which probably tells you more about me than I’d want you to know.

(3) No one said “for reals” in the 1980s, slang was much more primitive then.

(4) Remember when playing video games used to cost 25 cents for three lives?  And when limiting “screen time” involved giving a kid a financial-management problem to solve?

(5) Long story, entertaining: involves international travel, educational hijinks, and living the life of a spy, but beyond the scope of this particular narrative.

In the Space of One Warp

If you listened to the first WeaveCast, you’ll know that I didn’t take to weaving immediately.  I bought a used Baby Wolf loom, tried to learn it on my own with limited success, and then put in in the corner for a two-year time out.  Then I took a class, learned how to really use it and then dove head-long into weaving.

I don’t recommend this as a method, but it does seem to be mine.  A couple of years ago, I bought a used AVL loom.  I tried to learn to weave on it, with limited success, and it’s loomed over my weaving studio ever since.  (AVL Production Dobby Looms do not roll into corners, they’re also hard to throw in your car to take to a workshop.)

It took a new locale (with more space to get around the loom), re-building parts of it to be more user-friendly, three trips from Laura Fry (and one from Doug), and one nine-yard test warp, but finally, for the first time, yesterday, I felt like I was in charge of this loom, not the other way around!

The warp started off rough.  With many a problem.  (BTW, if you’re trying to find skips or threading errors in a warp using a screaming yellow weft is a great idea.)

rough warp

I’d threaded it in a hurry late one night and made just about every mistake known to weaver.  It was a slow process to fix them one-by-one.  There were also things wrong with the loom that I had to fix.  Like the turnbuckle that goes to the dobby.  It loosened and fell apart, and in the process of putting it back together…suddenly I had a decent shed!

I’d be the first to admit that I’m not an AVL PDL guru, but I can weave on this thing!  More than that, I can debug it when things go wrong.  I can fix problems in the threading and tension.  I can tweak the fly shuttle cord lengths so it feels right.  I can tell when the shafts have caught on each other (only happened once) and when I forgot to engage the live weight (happened more times than I’d care to admit.)  I didn’t even freak out when I broke the Texsolv fly-shuttle cord.  I just measured out a new length, popped it in place and continued on.

With computer control, a fly shuttle, and automatic cloth advance, driving this loom feels like flying!  The biggest problem I had was that I was weaving so fast I’d run out of weft and not notice it for a pick or two, then I’d have to backtrack, which is not so easy with auto-cloth-advance.  (I need a pirn with a warning siren: weft getting low!)

The other thing I haven’t quite figured is why occasionally I fling the fly shuttle off to the right.  I’m not sure if I need to adjust the elbow-pickers or if it’s something I’m doing wrong, such as moving the beater too soon when I throw from the left or how I throw the fly shuttle.  I paid close attention to myself while weaving and haven’t identified the cause yet.

Some cool things I noticed about the AVL:

  • The loom waste isn’t as bad as I’d feared.  I measured it at 35 inches.  One foot to tie onto the front (I tied on to the apron rod instead of using the sandpaper beam to start) and two feet at the end of the warp.  This surprised me because it’s a big loom.  But I was able to weave right up to the heddles and get a decent shed.

weaving rigup to the heddles

  • You can weave fast!  I loved not having to stop and advance the warp.  The only downside was having to watch the weft like a hawk and make sure you didn’t run out.
  • It’s a great workout.  Driving an AVL is a lot of work, lifting 48-inch-wide shafts is not effortless and the beater is heavy.  I fell into a rhythm and got the same relaxed high that I get during a good workout or long-distance bike ride.
  • No missed shafts.  I may be jinxing myself here, but my Compudobby I wove 8 yards of cloth without a single mis-fired shaft.

The fabric shows clearly my journey to competence.  At the beginning are numerous skips in the fabric, some areas where things got so bad I just advanced the warp to start over.

more bad cloth

Then you can see I’m coming to terms with the warp and the loom.  Things are getting better, mistakes are fewer.

Finally, I picked a pattern to weave(*), Diamonds, one of the sample patterns that comes with Fiberworks PCW, and made usable cloth.

Usable cloth!

It’s not perfect cloth.  But as I tell my students, when you’re learning, your goal is to make a weaver.  Any cloth that happens is a bonus.

Last week I created an AVL weaver.

And I ended  up with about 4 yards of rayon chenille twill as a bonus!  I’m not sure what I’ll make out of it.  I’m currently thinking some sort of garment.  A slinky-soft top or jacket.  I’ll have to see how it wet-finishes up.  It’s 2000 ypp sleyed at 24 epi.

The failed scraps of starts and stops I’m thinking about turning into patchwork projects.  Pincushions and the like.

I can’t wait to get my next warp on the loom.  It’s one that’s waited too long already.

(*) I fully intended to design my own weave draft, but it’s been a crazy week and I had to choose between designing and weaving.  Once I got the loom up-and-running, I couldn’t keep my hands off it long enough to create a WIF.  It’s so much fun to be able to finally use this beast of a loom!