I start every Colour and Design Workshop off by explaining to my students that there are hundreds of different ways to tackle the subject of design. Every designer has their own particular way of working, of organizing thoughts, and of bringing ideas to fruition.
All I can do, as a designer and a teacher, is to share my own system. It isn’t necessarily better than any other system. But it works for me, and it seems to provide my students with a good strong solid foundation around the process of designing.
I didn’t always work this way, early on there was a lot of hit and miss. But gradually, I paid attention to things that worked, I analyzed why they work, and I developed my system. I’m still refining it, and hopefully I will be able to work on it until the day I die. I want to weave forever. I will never ever tire of making beautiful simple cloth.
We all have pivotal moments in our lives, and one such pivotal moment for me was having the opportunity to be the Teaching Assistant for Jack Lenor Larson at the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1984. Jack and Randall Darwall taught a course called “The Consummate Cloth.”
It turned out to be three weeks of doing nothing but studying sett and finishing our cloth. We wove everything mostly in white yarn and in 2 structures: plain weave and four-shaft twills. We sampled. And sampled. And sampled. And sampled. —And over a three-week period, the 12 students attending created hundreds of samples striving for our teachers’ vision of “the consummate cloth.” Their criteria were simple⎼the end product had to have all of exceptional drape, hand, and bias.
This experience formed the basis of my design process. I break this process down into three main components, which I identify as Architecture, Graphic, and Colour. In today’s post, I’ll start with Architecture. When I think about the architecture of a piece of cloth, I liken it to the architecture of a building.
Buildings have good foundations; cloth has hemstitching or a straight header upon which to build.
Buildings have studs; cloth has warp threads.
Buildings have floors; cloth has weft threads.
Buildings have a strong beam structure for exterior walls; cloth has a selvedge.
I build a piece of cloth the way I imagine a carpenter builds a house. And I feel that the most important decision that I make—the very first decision I have to make, right at the outset—is what my ends per inch (epi) are going to be. Ninety percent of what I weave is balanced cloth, because I generally make simple items—scarves, stoles, towels, blankies—things that we can wrap ourselves in. Highly functional and useful. Now, all of these items need to have optimal drape. And what I know is that a 50/50 piece of cloth will have the best drape possible, because it will have perfect bias. (For any newbies out there, a 50/50 cloth has the same number of ends per inch and picks per inch.)
I have spent the last 35 years weaving with many of the same yarns over and over again and I have learned that there is not just one sett for any one yarn even if the structure never changes. For instance, consider the number of setts possible for a 8/2 cotton:
For our visual learners, these photos of finished pieces should give you a better idea of the many possibilities for handwoven cloth:
Two things of note….
We can only weave the open setts if we have great technique and know how to control our beater.
As our sett increases there will come a point when we will no longer be able to weave the cloth balanced no matter how hard we beat because the fabric is heading towards warp-predominance. That’s not a bad thing, and under some circumstances might be just what you’re looking for.
At 40 EPI, 8/2 cotton will be totally warp faced. So if you want to use this yarn to weave Repp….you got it baby! One yarn, many different setts and many different types of fabric. How cool is that! So many possibilities hidden in one yarn and it is knowing how to use your reed that makes it all possible.
I sample in plain weave then twill and finally explore supplementary weft structures.
Fall is my favourite time of year. It brings cooler weather but with bright sunshine; the garden is overflowing; the apples are pressed into juice (this year we did our apples and pears together and it is fantastic. Just sayin ).
And of course with autumn comes Thanksgiving Day. I usually do feel thankful every day of the year, but on the Thanksgiving Weekend (which we just had in Canada) I do reflect a little more deeply on all the blessings I have in my life. I have so many:
I have a wonderful and supportive family,
I live in a wonderfully supportive community,
I have an amazing staff running my business.
And, not least, I have been able to spend my life weaving and fostering our little business.
Few of us would be doing what we get to do (weaving and spinning and knitting) without all the farmers who grow the fibre in our yarns. When I think about it, we have silk rearers, flax growers, cotton farmers, and shepherds shepherding all those beautiful hoofed beasties – the alpacas, the angora goats, the numerous breeds of sheep – all working for us. Then there are all those hard-working folks who turn the fibre into yarn and all the dyers who pour their colourful hearts into it. An army of artisans stands behind every cone of natural yarn, and I am thankful to all of them.
A few weeks back I was cleaning up some really old files and I came across my very first order to Henry’s Attic back, in January of 1992. I was reading the list of yarns on that order and I realized that we still sell all those same yarns. Now, I have never met either Henry or Samira, but I feel like I know them somehow after all these years and I’m thankful to them because they have been at this forever, too. Then I started to think about all our other yarn suppliers and the mills we have been dealing with for all these many years and there are so so many. I am grateful for all these long-lasting partnerships, alliances, and connections.
And then there are all my students and customers and members of the Online Guild, we would not be here without you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for trusting in me and supporting me personally and JST as a business. I am so grateful.
Harvest Splendour tea towel kit
A few weeks back Joan and I were wandering around the yard marvelling at all the fall colours. We started to collect little piles of leaves, twigs and Japanese maple helicopters , it was such a beautiful pile. When we got back to the studio I was looking at all the amazing colours and decided to design the Harvest Splendour Organic Tea Towel Kit.
I started with a 3 stripe overall division of space but after I wove them I decided to make the sides a bit narrower and the centre stripes a bit wider. I know this will give you more curry and brass to play with while weaving and I love those zinger accents in the weft.
I also decided to weave these in Venne Organic 8/2 cotton, it was a no brainer… it was Mother Earth who provided such brilliant inspiration and therefore I needed to honour her by using the kindest yarn we sell. Organic cotton is kind to the earth, plain and simple.
We’ve started a blog – I have it on good authority that they’re quite the rage. Here’s the first two posts:
The price we’re paying for mohair has increased. We’re going to hold off increasing our prices until Nov 1.
If you were thinking of making one of our mohair blanket kits – Spring Stripes, Three Stripe or Two Stripe – then now is the time to buy it… unless you foresee a slump in the worldwide price of mohair.
Jane appears on the Weave Podcast
Jane chatted with Weave Podcast host, Sarah Resnick, about the Online Guild and weaving in general.
When I first envisioned the Online Guild I budgeted to present one hour of video each month. All the filming we have done in 2018 and for 2019 has produced videos that are 2-3 hours long! I have completely blown my budget. But how can I cut anything out? I just can’t!
Alas, after much number crunching the Online Guild dues are going up to $99 (Canadian) starting December 7, 2018.
If you’re not already a member Online Guild, you can Join the Online Guild before December 7 at the original rate. If you are a member, unfortunately our system doesn’t allow renewal in advance.
We’re all in search of that perfect straight edge, that golden selvedge, and there are many ways we get there. We employ special threadings, floating selvedges, denser edges. You can use regular shuttles, open bottom shuttles, end feed shuttles or temples to aid you in your selvedge journey.
I have trained a lot of weavers over the years, and selvedges are always (cough) on the table. Over the years, I have come to feel that some of the thoughts below are quite important, so I’m sharing them with you today.
Thought #1: The loom is my instrument!
I always tell people that the loom is my instrument…it is my version of a violin. The shuttle is my bow and the cloth is my music. Any string musician will tell you that their bow needs to feel good in their hand, and so my shuttle needs to feel good in my hand too. My favourite “bow” is the Schacht open bottom shuttle, because it allows me to tension my bobbin from underneath each time I handle the shuttle. My shuttle fits my hand perfectly—it is not too big or too small—and I use the same shuttles for all my weaving.
Thought #2: Bigger isn’t necessarily better!
Sometimes we weave with thin yarns, sometimes we weave with heavier—and when we do we think we need to change the size of our bobbins in regards to the size of the yarn. If we use a bigger bobbin we can get more yarn on it and therefore weave for a lot longer. The choice of a longer bobbin necessitates the need for a longer and larger shuttle. Bobbin lengths increase by 1″ of length. When you stop to figure out just how much more yarn you can get on that 1″ longer bobbin, you will be surprised to find out that the answer is “Not Much”. However, you now have to put that bobbin in a shuttle that is 2″ longer than your favourite regular shuttle which fits your hand like a glove. A 4″ bobbin (the regular kind) fits an 11″ shuttle, 5″ bobbins fit a 13″ shuttle, 6″ bobbins fit a 15″ shuttle. (I’m glad they don’t make longer bobbins because then we would be wielding lengths of 2×4.) Any advantages we gained from those 1″ increases in bigger bobbin size are quickly and dramatically lost because now our “bow” doesn’t fit our hand as well and we can lose control of ourtechnique.
Thought #3. Sequence of events.
The sequence that you use to throw each pick is very important. I throw the shuttle, and then beat on an open shed. I leave the beater against the fell of the cloth while I change the shed and then I bring it back to the castle after I have changed the shed. So this is the sequence: Throw, Beat, Change, Beater Back …… Throw, Beat, Change, Beater Back. (See Thought #8 for the additional tug that could be given at this time if needed.)
When you beat on an open shed, you allow the shed to take what the shed requires. The beater actually pulls yarn off the bobbin and into the shed. It stops when the beater touches the fell of the cloth and it has taken just the right amount.
When we consider the alternate way of beating in a weft yarn (which is to bubble and beat on a closed shed), we have created a closed situation where you must create the same scenario exactly the same way each time you throw the shuttle—and that is a very difficult thing to do. If your bubble is too high, then the excess yarn squishes out the side at the selvedge. If your bubble is too low then there isn’t enough yarn in the bubble to fit the shed and your selvedges draw in. Try the method above and see how this little sequence solves so many selvedge problems.
Thought #4: Wind a good bobbin!
I know that everyone reading this will have had this experience. You are weaving away and you get towards the end of your bobbin and the yarn on your bobbin starts to jam up. When this happens all of our focus is on that stupid bobbin and yarn not coming off, but as we tug and pull we aren’t paying much attention to the fact the other selvedge is being tugged and pulled.
One of the reasons your yarn is stuck is because you filled the corners of the bobbin when you first started winding it and those corners have now collapsed like a mountain slide of scree—I know! I know! We are all taught to do this. It’s in every book you open.
Here is an alternate approach. It provides you with a situation where the yarn is able to leave the bobbin freely, right down to the last inch.
Once upon a time, before there were plastic bobbins with ends bits there was the paper quill. Paper quills were wound with a firm straight movement from side to side, slowing moving away from the edges and winding closer to the centre with each pass. Now, I love plastic bobbins with end bits, but I wind them the old fashioned way, like a paper quill. You wind straight across from side to side, filling up the bobbin until it is half full, then with each successive pass I come a little closer to the centre creating a ‘sausage’ shape. As the bobbin fills, you stay away from the sides and you wind them firmly with your fingers, guiding the yarn onto the bobbin, right up close where you have the mostcontrol.
Thought #5: Find the Sweet Spot!
It is so tempting to weave just a little further before we advance the warp. We all do this, but it is a bad habit and it is a habit that is detrimental to your selvedge. When you weave too close to the beater you force your warp into a situation where it has to open its mouth too wide. It is yawning, and when it yawns, it pulls on the weft yarns at the selvedge. You don’t notice this until you advance your warp and then you go—oh heck—look at that. My selvedges are messed up, it must be the tension on my warp, or maybe it is the yarn I’m using that is slippery or heck, it must be the stupid loom’s fault……WRONG! It’s a bad habit. If you get into the good habit of advancing your warp frequently you won’t be putting your warp into that stressful situation which makes your weft sloppy at the selvedge. SO CUT IT OUT already!Weave in the sweet spot…..that perfect little space in the middle where Goldilocks lives and everything is juussstright!
Thought #6: On Temples.
Now I don’t mean to be boastful and all, but if I may say so, I do know how to get perfect selvedges. People compliment me on my selvedges all the time. They might think I need a good haircut or some new shoes, but I always get the nod on my selvedges. I have never used a temple in my life. I appreciate their role in rug weaving and ikat weaving, but for the general run-of-the-mill type weaving that I do, they simply aren’t necessary.
The temple’s main purpose is to prevent draw-in. Now, I think that a little bit of draw-in is desirable—and necessary to aid in even weaving…selvedge to selvedge. A little bit of draw-in is like having good firm walls holding up the roof of your house. Your selvedges are the walls of your cloth and the rest of the warp is the interior studs. Your weft is the floor of your house.
Your beginning hemstitching is the basement, strong and tight for you to build on. I don’t use floating selvedges unless I absolutely have to, like in a twill. (Or in a basket weave or canvas weave—these two weave structures both have two picks in the same shed.) With some weave structures you do need to employ different threadings to make the selvedge structurally secure, but in most weaving you don’t need to do anything except use your good shuttle handling technique, a proper throwing sequence, good bobbin winding skills, and diligent warp advancement to get those great selvedges.
Thought #7: Sibling Rivalry at the Edge!
One side of your weaving is often better than the other—and it is usually the side opposite your dominant hand. So, right-handed weavers often have a better left selvedge, and left-handed weavers often have a better right selvedge. The reason is, your dominant hand is often more confident and has greater control as compared to its non-dominant sibling. So, your right hand is controlling the left selvedge, and the left hand is controlling the right selvedge. (This is, of course, not always the case, but it often is.) If you want to get both selvedges the same, you need to pay careful attention to your hands, to see if one is doing something in some way different from the other. Maybe it is a little wrist action before you throw your next shot. Or maybe your finger sits differently on the bobbin on one side and not on the other. Your job is to patiently and quietly pay attention to what the good hand is doing, and try to send that—knowledge—to your other hand. Remember that your mind is controlling the whole show.
Thought #8: What should I be looking at?
When I weave, my eyes are moving back and forth between three different spots.
When the shuttle hits my right hand, my eye is watching the left selvedge. That’s because the right hand is controlling the tension on that leftselvedge.
My eye then travels to the centre of the loom and watches as the beater comes down with its weft yarn. (I am often looking at the negative space in my weaving to get the proper picks per inch. If you are weaving a balanced fabric, then the negative space should always be forming a square. It is easy to watch for thosesquares.)
Just before the shuttle heads to the left I give the shuttle a teeny weeny little tug. My finger works like a brake on the bobbin and this little tug pulls out any sloppiness that might be at the edge as the weft yarn turns thecorner.
While my shuttle travels across to my left hand, my eye is focused on that rightside.
Then my eye goes to centre again to watch what the beater isdoing.
At the selvedge, I give that little tug, as before. (I actually have a name for this. I call it Intentional Weaving. That is, I’m not just sitting there, banging away, beating the living daylights out of my cloth. I am placing each weft yarn as its own event, carefully—and I am watching the selvedges form right before my veryeyes.)
In general, I don’t fart around with the selvedges, manhandling them with every pick. It is all done through controlling the yarn on the bobbin and controlling the shuttle with our hands— the most wondrous tools wehave.
Thought #9: Pass the torch!
When I put a shuttle into any new weaver’s hand for the first time, I am mindful of how I do it. If you teach someone good technique right from the start, you are giving them one of the greatest gifts you can. We all know how hard it is to change bad habits. If you learn to weave with bad technique—well, changing it later on can be quite difficult.
Palms to the sky! Hold your shuttle with your palms up. That is what I always say to my students.
Use the shuttle that fits your hand well and feels good, because you will be more confident with it.
Go slowly at first, gain confidence, and then bring up your speed. If you start to lose control, slow down until you find your comfort zone again. It is just like driving a car.
In a Nutshell.
If you start with a good warp AND wind a good bobbin AND Weave Intentionally AND pay attention to sequence—you will have good selvedges—without the need of extra tools, expensive shuttles, or pirns. If I can get great selvedges out of a seven-year-old student within an hour, you can have good selvedges too.
The easiest way to get there is to practice. Put on a narrow warp, about 12″ wide, with yarn that you have no to emotional attachment to and that you aren’t planning to give away as a present and try some of the techniques above. By the end of that warp your selvedges should be perfect!