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Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, the Fabrics!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

It is so nice to be able to step back in time and revisit past journeys through our photos. The digital age has made it so easy to click, click, click and I think I took over 4000 pictures on my first trip to India. While having that many photos is wonderful, it also makes it hard to pick just a few, LOL. In this post I’ll share some of my favourite pieces that made their way home with me on that trip that I told you about in the January 29th post (click here if you missed it!).

Just to remind you, the village is in West Bengal, north of Calcutta. This village is famous for its extraordinary weavers, very fine weaving, Saris and an inlay technique called Jamdani. The majority of the weavers wove on simple 2 shaft looms, with fly shuttle attachments. Warping is an extremely meticulous process due to the fine warp threads and the finished fabric is breathtaking.

The piece below was woven on 2 shafts with reeled silk. The warp was black and the weft was the colour of copper. If you look right down in the bottom left hand corner of the photo below you can see what the cloth looked like when it came off the loom….simple flat plain weave. All of the texture that you see in the body of the cloth was done by using the thumbs to force the warp threads apart after the cloth was taken from the loom. When I first brought it home it had a wide border all across the bottom about 6” wide but over the years I have been adding texture to the piece by demonstrating how the warps threads were moved. I don’t have much space left to demonstrate…so I’ll have to go back and get another one. When I hold this cloth in my hands I realize that another artisan used their thumbs on every square inch of the cloth shifting the warp threads exposing the weft threads.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

I have draped the scarf on Mary our wonderful model to show you this simple piece of plain weave in all its glory.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

The next piece is an amazing example of beater control. It is woven in plain weave with weft faced bands of 3/1 twill. The warp is like a cobweb, so incredibly fine it almost disappears. A band of gossamer plain weave is woven and then a band of 3/1 twill is woven that covers the warp as it becomes weft faced but because the threads are so fine it has a drape and effect that is absolutely stunning.

You can shift those weft bands into the open space but in the 9 years I have had this piece they have never shifted on their own.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Another of my favourite simple plain weave pieces has several things going on.  The warp is cotton with a silk weft. This scarf is so soft…..it is difficult to describe just how it feels in the hand.

At first glance it is easy to see the horizontal space that is left every few inches, again controlled by the beater but it also looks like there is denting in the warp.  Denting is a technique where you leave an empty dent open in the reed. Those black vertical lines look like empty space but upon closer inspection it is really 3 ends of one colour and then one end of black, there is no denting happening in the piece just the illusion of it. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to use my thread magnifier to figure out what is going on in these pieces.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

The last piece in this post is woven on 4 shafts and is plain weave threaded into blocks. Some threads are on 1 and 2 and another block is on 3 and 4.

It can be woven with a simple tabby tie-up where both blocks weave plain weave from selvedge to selvedge like you see at both ends or it can be woven with one block always weaving plain weave while the other block doesn’t weave at all. The is accomplished in the tie up. The threads on 1 and 2 are always changing places but the threads on 3 and 4 stay in the middle and have one pick that floats over the entire block of them and the next pick floats under them. When you weave this way through the entire length of the cloth you end up with stripes where your warp has no take-up because there is never any interlacement through them, just over and under them.
Those stripes are the wavy ones and they were warped in silk where the other plain weave blocks are warped in a very fine wool. The entire weft is the fine wool. There is also a fabulous graphic threaded into those blocks. It is such a simple idea and every part of this cloth, the hand, the drape, the shiny, the matte, the thin stripes, the wide stripes, the colour……screamed take me home! 🙂

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

I am so happy to be able to share these particular weavings because this cloth and the weavers of this village challenged beliefs that I had carried around since I started to weave 30 years before. They challenged my ideas around sett, use of reed and beater and about what you could and couldn’t do with thread or structure…it changed my entire thought process around design. I had always loved plain weave but I gained a profoundly deeper respect for it than was there before. I will be eternally grateful to these weavers, for their extraordinary skill and vision and for the gift they shared with me during my 10 days with them. Namaste.

Like this post? Please feel free to share their beautiful work on Pinterest using the graphic below!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

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In Memory of Ann Belau

Once upon a time there was an online weaving guild and some weavers formed groups to follow along with the guild. There were big groups and small groups, formal guilds, and informal get-togethers. Some groups took on weaving projects or challenges together. Sometimes, they put on shows to share the beautiful things they created.

Ann Belau belonged to two of these groups. One was a small local group in Three Rivers, CA; the other was the venerable, valley-wide guild Handweavers of the Valley. It’s clear Ann was a key member of her weaving groups—a teacher, an organizer, an event planner—and that she was driven by her own innate desire to learn as much as she could of spinning, dyeing, and weaving.

Left to right: Ellen Henderson, Ann, Linda Hayden, Mary Lou Hanson, Sophie Britten.

I really connected with Ann and her weaving group when, last October, she designed the foyer for the 39th show and sale of her local guild—displaying her study groups samples of all the episodes of the online guild. It was, by all accounts, a stunning display of colour and weaving. As guests arrived, Ann sat at her loom and gave teaching demonstrations of preparing the loom for weaving. At the time, I was thrilled and inspired and a little awed to think that I had had a part in such a truly remarkable achievement.

Ann has left us now, although she will never truly leave her family, her community, and her weaving friends, by all of whom I know she was deeply loved.

But I am still thinking about Ann, about her weaving group, about the people she connected with, and about the people who connected with those people. I am reflecting on how weavers who belong to an online weaving guild—in the cloud!— still find ways to organize, to connect, and to form community and engage with one another in meaningful ways.

I always get this sense of awe watching people take up the lessons of the guild and run with them. But there was something about Ann and her group that laid it out for me in a new way. Somehow, thanks to Ann and the people connected to Ann and the people connected to the people connected to Ann–I saw something new about the creative spirit and how it tends to organize.

First, we weave and then, we find one another. We self-organize–in guilds, in small weaving groups, at the community centre, in our homes. We are bigger than the organizations we create, but we also sometimes find our home there, as Ann’s daughter says Ann did. We decide to create beauty out of our own spirit; then we find our partners, our sisters, our friends. And then we create astounding things together. We work, we create, we talk, we share, we laugh, we learn—and we produce beauty.

Maybe we are like the bees. Maybe each of us is a single bee. In solitude, we weave our own life and experiences. But then we find one another and come together, and maybe then we are like a hive. And within our hive, we reach out with our sisters for craft, for mastery, and for beauty. And then one day, when we leave the hive, maybe we are like Ann—we launch into the open air with sun on our face, the wind in our hair, the blue sky over our wings—on a mission to find the flowers, and then to dance their location for her sisters, also working and dancing under the sun.

This is what we do. It really is what we do. It is the most beautiful thing imaginable. And I am so, so privileged to be included in that. I have all of you to thank for it, but it took Ann to show it to me.

To see some of Ann’s beautiful work, please read this blog post written by her daughter, who has given us permission to share the link here.

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Handweaving in India

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

A few weeks back I received a request for information about the beautiful textiles on the back wall of the studio in the videos. Laurel asked if I could share some information about them…. how they were woven, where I found them, interesting facts about them and about my travels.

Handweaving in India: some of the beautiful handwoven samples on display in the JST Textiles studio

What a great idea… those textiles are hanging on the wall because they provide me with more inspiration than I could use in a lifetime and they are all woven in India.

In 2011 I was invited by Charlotte Kwon of Maiwa Handprints in Vancouver to go to India and assist as a weaving facilitator at a Masterclass she was hosting in a village some hours north of Calcutta. That trip changed my life in more ways than I can say. I have been back to India several times since and have also worked in Ethiopia. I’m actually going back to Ethiopia in March to continue working with some of the very fine weavers at Sabahar and I’ll certainly post about that little adventure.

Going to India confirmed what I have always believed…..that we can weave the most beautiful fabrics on the simplest of looms. If our technique is top notch and we train our hands and eyes we can accomplish great things. If we question our beliefs about right and wrong (or it must be done this way) we come to understand that there are a million ways to approach things and everyone needs to embrace what works for them and that is dependent on the resources we have on hand.

There are 8 million handweavers working in India every single day. Their use of pattern is like a language, it has great cultural meaning and is miles deep. The fabrics created are extremely different between villages, regions and states. This means you could spend a lifetime learning about cloth in India.

I could go on and on but I think I’ll start with the warping process in the first village I was in. I’ll add a new post every other post.

Remember, in rural India weaving is a village affair, imagine walking into a village where 1000’s of weavers are busy at work. I was in heaven.

A simple 2 shaft pit loom. Notice that the beams are all made from giant bamboo. The weavers sit on the ground with their feet in a dugout where the treadles are.

Handweaving Around the World: India

This is a reeled silk warp being prepared. In this village they start by making a gigantic sectionally wound warp and the warping reel will hold warp for many looms. Once it is all on, the weavers bring their thread beams in and wind off enough for their sari or whatever they are weaving.

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

The thread beams and harnesses are taken outside when there is bright sunlight to thread them.

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Then the beam and harnesses go back onto the loom where they are sleyed and weaving begins.

What a blast!

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Hope you’ll come back for more.

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Handweaving in India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

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A Weaver’s Challenge: 30 Tea Towel Designs in 30 Days

A few days before we broke for Christmas one of my dearest friends and longtime JST employee Susan Brown (25 years) called to say she was coming in to show me something.  She told me a wonderful story and Susan has graciously agreed to share some of it with you.  Once again, it reinforces the lessons in the previous few blogs.  I hope you’re inspired by Susan’s story and you give it a try yourself 🙂

30 Tea Towel Designs in 30 Days

For the month of October an artist friend of mine, Gail Sibley painted 31 paintings in 31 days. Yes, one per day! I was so inspired but I am not a painter. I decided to draw 30 tea towels in 30 days for November. It turned out to be a very worthwhile endeavour. First I went out and found a lovely little square (don’t you just love square) sketch book and then gathered all my pencil crayons. I loved the discipline of drawing one tea towel a day but must confess there was a night or two when bedtime came and no tea towel had appeared in my sketch book for that day. I am happy to tell you that every night but one, I managed to make it happen.

Having taken Jane’s Colour and Design workshop the previous year, I drew on what she had taught in the class. Often I selected a few colours to start with, sometimes outside my usual pallette and then proceeded to work on the graphics. At times I forced myself to try layouts that did not come from my ‘go to’ designs. That was hard but very rewarding most of the time. While drawing a tea towel, the ‘what if’ question often came up which usually led to the following day’s design. Coming up with a different design each day was not always easy but when it wasn’t, I asked myself ‘what if I just changed one element of a previous design’ and presto, there was a new design.

A Weaver's Challenge: 30 tea towels in 30 days

Drawing 30 tea towels in 30 days was fun, challenging, educational, interesting and (as I said), very worthwhile. There are designs that I don’t like so much, but there are definitely designs that I like and some that I can’t wait to try. Who knows, I may do it again or something like it!

-Susan Brown

A Weaver's Challenge: 30 tea towels in 30 days

Ready to sketch?

The best part of this challenge is that you can start it any time you like! Don’t be afraid to customize it to fit your own preferences – for instance, if you aren’t  ready to commit to 30 days, try sketching 7 Tea Towel Designs in 7 Days. Who knows, you might enjoy it so much, you decide to keep going!

We’d love to see your design ideas, feel free to share them with us in our Ravelry group or on Instagram using the #janestaffordtextiles hashtag.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog & newsletter  to get future posts delivered via email!

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A Weaver's Challenge: 30 tea towels in 30 days

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Weaver Spotlight: JST Online Guild Member Linda P.

This month we are going to shine the spotlight on one of our JST Online Guild members…the talented Ms. Linda Pickett from Victoria, B.C. Earlier this year, Linda attended our last workshop and brought along some fabulous show and tell. I was so excited that I begged her to let me share 3 of the pieces with you.

She used all the techniques that were presented in the last 3 blog posts. She figured out what her sett was first, then she divided her space and finally she poured in the colour and threading structure.
These 3 pieces are amazing!
In Linda’s words:
A number of things came together for me this past year.  I think it was partly the online guild, partly that I framed some goals for myself for the year (first time I have done that), partly that I was working with yarns and colours that I like. I was inspired to play, to push things further, to experiment. I have let all this air into my cloth. I experimented with mixing yarns in my cloth that I would never have considered. I am weaving more mindfully (its kinda slow but I am enjoying it), I am doing better at watching the negative space, paying more attention to my technique.  The result is that I wove projects this past year that thrilled me, the most delighted I have been with my weaving since I first threw a shuttle (before I realized that that miraculous cloth closely resembled cardboard). So very exciting. 
 
One of the brilliant things about the online guild is that it is like getting a creative booster shot every month. I certainly didn’t weave everything; I didn’t “keep up” by any means but they always inspire me. Sometimes I almost can’t watch because my brain is too full for more ideas! So fabulous. 
‘Blankie’ is woven using Harrisville Shetland in PW at 8 epi and 8 ppi.  Linda pulled one of the Colour and Weave threadings (DDL) from the guild gamp and used it for the body of the blankie.
 She framed it with a natural zinger line and a solid border.
The drape and hand are spectacular and the colour is beautifully soft.
This next shawl is breathtaking; Linda used many of the techniques we learned in 2018. Her canvas was a mix of 18/2 merino for the warp and 16/2 cotton for weft. Woven perfectly balanced at 18 epi and ppi.
Graphically, she did a division of space in 5, and her outer borders are different widths….there is that asymmetry word again! 🙂
Then she had 2 sections with 4 D, 4 L colour and weave sequence from the gamp in Season 2 episode 4
and the centre section was solid white with a fine over grid of black on it. She put it all together using the ideas from Colour and Design, so naturally I was jumping up and down when she showed me this piece. (You can just imagine!)

Linda took it all tad further with this beautiful fine 40/2 linen scarf where she inserted some Bronson Lace into the graphic.

It is so easy to see how the graphic and the sketching helps you get to the warping board quickly:

She knew her EPI was going to be 24 because we discussed it based on all the sampling we do around here. She figured out how wide and how long, then she drew her graphic…..got her number of warp threads…fiddled around a wee bit making the lace threading fit (based on Season 1 Episodes 5 and 6),
and then she poured in her colours:

That’s the formula that just keeps giving and giving and giving!

We absolutely adore seeing what our guild members are weaving! Did you know that you can share your projects with our Ravelry Group, and also on Instagram using the #JSTOnlineGuild hashtag?

We look forward to another exciting year of weaving in 2019 – click here to learn more about Season 3: Pushing the Boundaries of Plain Weave. We hope you’ll join us!

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Design for Weavers: Colour Theory & Practice

Colour is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.

Claude Monet

Colour is the child of light, the source of all light on earth.

From “Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments”

My weaving colour choices are an emotional response, a response to some stimulus that has moved me—a flower, a painting, a picture in a magazine. I see something that I love, and then I interpret it in coloured yarns.

Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong; sometimes it looks stunning, sometimes—less stunning. But the great thing is, there’s always more yarn and there’s always another opportunity to try again and make it better.

Talking Colour

Colour is a big subject, and it has a vocabulary all its own. In designing, I work most with three aspects of colour:

  • Hue
  • Value
  • Saturation

Hue

Hue is easy. It’s what we naturally think of when we think of “what colour” something is: red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple.

Another way to think of hue is where the colour sits on the colour wheel:

Value

If you were a painter, you could easily achieve a wide range of colours simply by adding black, white, or grey to your hue. This changes the lightness and darkness of a colour. This changes its value, which is the lightness or darkness of a colour.

If you add white to a colour, you have a tint:

If you add black to a colour, you have a shade:

If you add grey to a colour, you have a tone:

Saturation

A hue at its purest and clearest, as it would appear in the colour wheel, is said to be at its maximum saturation.

As you add grey to a hue, the hue becomes more desaturated—making it less clear and more muted. In the picture below, the outermost ring is the pure hue at its most saturated. As you move in to the centre of the circle, the colour becomes increasingly desaturated.

Using Colour

Weavers can’t mix on a palette like painters do, so it is important to play with combinations that might strike you as unlikely, because you’ll be amazed how some of them work in the cloth.

You will see in the sample work on the online guild that varying colours that have high and low saturation can give you the most amazing, complex colour in your finished piece.—Sort of like having a party with your quiet family, and then the loud crazy cousins come in and it becomes a hootenanny. ☺

I have some favourite moves I like to make when using colour, and I’ll share them with you here.

Gradations

I love gradation work.  This is where you can put all the tints and shades of one colour that you might have in your stash. A gradation builds movement across your weaving from light to dark.

If you then add an overgrid on your gradation, it makes an entirely new graphic:

You can shift through analogous colours, or in and out of one set of colours—for example, dark on the selvedge to light in the middle, or vice versa.

Analogous Colour Harmonies

I use analogous colour harmonies more than anything else in my weaving. They are the colours right next door to each other on the colour wheel.

Analogous colours flow into one another. Gaia uses them all the time: just start looking at flowers!

Some colour systems include four colours from the wheel in a row, others three. Personally, I think you can use as many as you want to create your own personal rainbow. If you are working directionally around the colour wheel you can never go wrong.

Analogous colour harmonies are the perfect place to start if you are unsure about using colour. Then you can add gradations of light and dark.

Complementary Colours

Colours that are right across the colour wheel from each other are called complementary colours, or complements.

Complements for Zingers and Accents

Complements make great zingers and accents.

When deciding how you want your complementary colours to interact, keep in mind that colour plus its complement (in theory, anyway) gives you a muddied look. For example, if you use one colour for your warp and its complement for your weft, the resulting piece can be very muted, possibly more than you expect.

If you want that big contrast, keep blocks of complementary colours larger in both the warp and the weft, so that the eye does not blend them into gray.

Our plaid sample is a great example of this. We have big red squares and big green squares. Where they weave on each other, they look muddy. But because our eye is drawn to the solid square of each colour, we don’t even notice the muddy areas.

Split Complements for Pairing

For a split complement, we first identify the true complement of a colour. Then we select the colours on either side of it to pair with the original colour. For example, the true complement of green is red.

To find the split complement, we look at the colours on either side of red.

If you are looking at one colour family and want to find some nice pairings, split complements always work. They make great zingers, too. Start looking for split complements in nature and you’ll start seeing them everywhere.

Many of the samples in the previous 2 posts use these principles.  Go back and have a look here and here.

So happy to share my approach to colour with you. To explore colour further, I invite you to join the JST Online Guild; our 2018 season focuses on Colour & Design, and you’ll receive immediate access to all published videos when you sign up! Click here to learn more (you’ll also receive our free PDF guide, Project Planning 1010).  Happy Weaving!

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Design for Weavers: Fibonacci & Division of Space

Division of Space In my colour and design workshops, we always look to the world around to gain our initial source of inspiration. Photographs, gardening, travel, and fashion magazines can provide you with images that make your heart sing. I have a huge stash of magazines for students to thumb through, and once they find the right one we get started on the second step of the design process.

It starts with division of space.

The weaver has a canvas in my mind—perhaps a tea towel, blanket, or a scarf. They have already decided what yarns they want to use, what the EPI/PPI is, and the overall size of the canvas. Then they divide up the space on paper.

You can divide a canvas any way you want, but I usually start with a division of two and build from there. I draw vertical lines first that represent the warp and then I play with horizontal division of space which represents the weft. You can add a frame, you can imagine a darker line or zinger. It’s playtime!

Sketching should be fun, fast, and quick. Leave your rulers in the drawer; this isn’t about straight lines.

Our guiding light for division of space is the Fibonacci numeric sequence. Basically, it works like this: Start by counting 1, 2.

1, 2

Now add those together. The sum is your next number: 3.

1, 2, 3

Now just keep going: add the last two numbers in the sequence to get the next number.

1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21

…until you want to stop. —Sounds a bit contrived, but this sequence underlies some of the most stunning designs in nature—including your own DNA, the spiral formed by the hairs on your head, the leaves of a lettuce, the seeds of a sunflower, and the shell of the nautilus snail.

Now that’s magic in design. And we can leverage that magic to help us make decisions in weaving.

There are so many ways to use this numerical series. My first decision is the big division of space. I can divide the canvas in 2, 3, 5, or whatever number I want.

I use it to help me create striping sequences, like in the example below.

  • 1 end of yellow
  • 2 ends of orange
  • 3 ends of red
  • 2 ends of orange
  • 1 end of yellow

I use it when I’m working with block structures and it helps me create with unit weaves, like in the example below.

  • 2 units of A
  • 5 units of B
  • 8 units of A
  • 5 units of B
  • 2 units of A

I use it when I trying to figure out how many inches…..hmmmm,

  • 1” of green
  • 3” of blue
  • 2” of purple
  • 3” of blue
  • 1” of green

The numbers don’t have to be used in sequence. Use them however you want.

I never let it lock me in a corner. Say I have a perfect gradation of 7 reds…..and they all move beautifully into each other, I don’t worry that it isn’t a 5 or an 8. I just put them all together.

But if I can’t decide how wide a border should be, then I trust that it will be either 2”, or 3”, or 5” depending on the width of the entire piece. It gives me peace of mind when I need to make decisions and I don’t get analysis paralysis.

After the initial division of space, I think about other words…

  • Framing
  • Zingers
  • Stripes
  • Plaid
  • Checks

I can add any of these things to the big division of space. It is a development.

Look at the photos below and see all the different ways the Fibonacci Numerical series has been used.

Plain Weave: Division of Space in 2 with a black zinger. Weft stripes are 3’s with a little zinger between them.
Plain Weave: Stripes are 2,3,5,3,2. Division of Space in 2 with a border and stripes. Weft colours are 3’s and 1’s in the colour changes.
Log Cabin: 5 Blocks of Log Cabin, 3 grey stripes.
Repp Weave: Asymmetrical Division in 3: Solid Left, Centre developed into 3, Right hand 3 blocks.
Repp Weave: Asymmetrical Division 5: Log Cabin Blocks of 3 and 1, Zingers of 2 and 1.

We go into this in great detail on the School of Weaving – click here to learn more & download your free Project Planning 101 PDF.

Hope you enjoy Fibonacci. If you liked this post, be sure to save it to Pinterest for future reference!

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Weaving Architecture: Step 1 of the Design Process

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:

8/2 cotton warp and weft sett at 22 EPI /22 PPI woven in twill
8/2 cotton sett at 12 EPI woven with boucle cotton at 12 PPI woven in PW
8/2 warp and weft sett at 18 EPI /18 PPI woven in PW
8/2 warp and 20/2 silk weft sett at 18 EPI/18 PPI woven in Twill….crazy huh!
8/2 warp and 20/2 silk weft sett at 16 EPI/16PPI woven in PW
8/4 cotton warp and 7 gauge bambu weft sett at 36 EPI for Repp Weave and then resleyed and opened up to 12 EPI/ 12 PPI in Plain Weave….two dramatically different fabrics from one yarn.

Two things of note….

  1. We can only weave the open setts if we have great technique and know how to control our beater.
  2. 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.

From this testing, I develop what I call my “canvases”—and once I have those canvases I get to add graphic and colour, which I’ll get into in greater detail on the next blog post.

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In Praise of Good Selvedges: Practical Tips for Weavers

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.

A good selvedge shouldn’t be hard to find.

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 our technique.

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 most control.

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 juussst right!

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 left selvedge.
  • 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 those squares.)
  • 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 the corner.
  • While my shuttle travels across to my left hand, my eye is focused on that right side.
  • Then my eye goes to centre again to watch what the beater is doing.
  • 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 very eyes.)
  • 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 we have.

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.
This is Molly who used to work here after school when she was in grade 8.

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!

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Weaving Philosophy: Find What Works For You

My philosophy on weaving is really very simple: we should all just be having a blast and enjoying the ride. Weaving is an amazing craft because it provides a creative vehicle for so many different personality types, from the precise analytical mind, to the free-spirited, let’s-fly-into-the-wind types, to all the rest of us in between.

We all see the world differently, and we process information differently. Weaving allows all of us to advance in our own way and arrive at our destination feeling creative and fulfilled.

That said, no matter which way you approach weaving, there are a few things that are a given. We have to learn how to manage our threads and get our looms dressed as easily as possible. And we have to learn a lot of techniques to get the job done. Good technique is central to our success.

Beginners have a lot to take in—a whole new vocabulary, hand and finger dexterity, brushing up on arithmetic :). But also, learning how to stay focussed and hopeful with so many possibilities laid out in front of us on a gazillion websites, blog posts, magazines, books, Pinterest, Instagram…you name it, you could spend all your time just looking and never doing, and you could get really confused.

When I started to weave it was much easier. There were far fewer resources. And there’s a sense in which that changes everything. There weren’t the kits and all the patterns like there are now—and because of that I learned so many valuable things right from the start. Because in those days (you know—around the time of the dinosaur) we were pretty much designing everything from the very first project. If you wanted to make a placemat, well, you took the yarn you had, figured out the ends per inch by wrapping it around a ruler, decided how wide and how long and how many you wanted to make…you did the arithmetic. You decided where the colour was going to go. And then you got going.

Fewer options meant fewer contradictions, too. I was blessed early on to have many wonderful teachers. But I also learned early that each one of them felt quite strongly that their way was best. At the art school I went to, we had a constant string of top notch weavers and artists rotating through the school. One teacher would say, “You should do it this way” and then the next teacher would say, “You should do it that way.” What I figured out was—there are a heck of a lot of ways to do the same darned thing. Eventually I stopped listening to all of them and figured out my own way, based on tidbits from all of them.

Hence, the first year of the School of Weaving focuses on FOUNDATION. I present different ways to do things but the most important thing I try to get across to you, the weavers, is that you have to try different things and find the way that works best for you. Always be open. Do comparative studies. Try one way and then another—but find out what works for you. Remember, it isn’t right, it isn’t wrong…it is just different.

What’s your weaving philosophy? Share it in the comments, or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram or Ravelry. We’d love to hear from you!

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